Editor’s Note: The civilization has destroyed many places in the name of progress, which they call ‘sacrifice zones.’ The following piece discusses different instances of destruction from recent history, and how the current economy has actively profited from those destructions. The views expressed in the article are of the author. DGR does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed.
Considering the destruction caused by extractive mining and wars, the global corporate empire society sure seems like one huge controlled demolition. Before getting to the topic of Electric Vehicles (EVs) and specifically Thacker Pass aka Peehee Mu’huh, some examples and explanation of the context of controlled demolition.
Currently in Ukraine, various governments/investors are making bank on both ends of the stick: from the weapons manufacturers destruction end AND the BlackRock, Inc. (an American multi-national investment company) et al reconstruction end. A December 2022 CNBC headline spilled the beans: “Zelenskyy, BlackRock CEO Fink agree to coordinate Ukraine investment” and more recently: “The estimated cost of Ukraine’s reconstruction and recovery bill has grown to $411 billion.” — while US infrastructure crumbles. A key aspect of the reconstruction is multinational agri-businesses salivating over Ukraine’s rich soil, something rarely mentioned in umpteen war analyses.
Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, the derailed train and subsequent deliberate explosions of toxic chemicals in Palestine, Ohio (which includes rivers), has created an environmental disaster; another controlled demolition because lack of care for railroad maintenance and extra care for dollars helped create the accident waiting to happen.
From an article by Tish O’Dell and Chad Nicholson:
“Three days after the derailment, on Feb. 6, we watched as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, in consultation with Norfolk Southern representatives, greenlighted a plan to blow holes in five of the cars containing toxic chemicals, which would lead to a ‘controlled release,’ and residents in nearby communities were ordered to evacuate. … By Feb. 7, according to a Norfolk Southern service alert, trains were running through East Palestine again. As thousands of dead fish floated in local waterways, as nearby residents were reporting sickness and dying pets, as untold long-term health and environmental problems lurked in the hazy future, the railroad chugged back to business as usual.”
Also sadly, “East Palestine Soil Contains Dioxin Levels Hundreds of Times Over Cancer Risk Threshold”
The broader issue to consider is this: controlled demolition requires careful preparation or deliberate lack there of—and then with the virtual flick of a switch, it happens . . . like dominoes. And a ‘new reality’ is created. What quickly followed the 9-11 attacks was the Global War Of Terror, later determined to have been riddled with lies.
After Covid-19 began, there were lockdowns and a slew of enforced restrictions, many of which were later deemed unwarranted. The world changed in a flash, as did the economy, with many small and some larger businesses going bust, as the elite rich got richer. Yet whatever one’s opinion about all that, the message from the natural world was quiet and clear: rivers and skies cleared up! . . . showing that healing can happen quickly―if we drastically curtail the business as usual of industrial capitalism.
After Ukraine re-began with Russia’s attacks (because the situation ‘began’ in 2014 with the Maidan/neo-Nazi coup overthrowing elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych) . . . economic sanctions, global economic shake-ups-and-downs, nuclear saber rattling, and more, including the above mentioned agri-business ploy, which, by the way, is also global, as, for example, Bill Gates is “the largest landowner in the U.S.,” owning “270,000 acres spread across 18 different states.”
A Twitter post on March 20, 2023, by esteemed journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, succinctly sums up the media-military-complex modus operandi:
And though not as visibly dramatic, preparations for controlled demolition are happening again with the deliberate push for EVs (Electric Vehicles). For example, in New York, November 2022:
“Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that will advance clean transportation efforts by removing barriers to the installation of electric vehicle charging stations on private property.”
“The Charge NY initiative offers electric car buyers the Drive Clean Rebate of up to $2,000 for new car purchases or leases. Combine that with a Federal Tax Credit of up to $7,500, and it’s an opportunity you wouldn’t want to miss. If you are a New York State resident looking for a new car, it’s a great time to buy or lease a plug-in hybrid or battery-powered car that qualifies for the Drive Clean Rebate.”
As any reader of Deep Green Resistance News Service and those following or participating in the efforts to Protect Thacker Pass knows, “clean” is false advertising and you would want to resist the opportunity. In the broad case of EVs, we, as human beings and as consumers have choices that can affect or re-direct the trajectory of this huge deliberate push for EVs, which is a kind of heating up of boiled frogs controlled demolition . . . because if not stopped, suddenly EVs will dominate the roads and landscapes, while sacred habitats and Native lands are destroyed.
As lawyer and Protect Thacker Pass co-founder Will Falk has alluded to in various interviews and videos, many aspects of the legal system are rigged in favor of government and corporate control of mining; this is a form of control with the goal of demolition of habitat and wildlife, too-often along with desecration of Native lands for profit.
I don’t have the answers for how to stop such control freak factors, but at least recognizing that there are various preparations so that a demolition ‘goes smoothly’ will help each person/group/organization find a best way to participate so as to help prevent specific preparations and perhaps prevent the controlled demolition of Thacker Pass aka Peehee Mu’huh, as well as other sacred site hot spots.
The natural world of plants also has an array of unseen or barely visible preparations until . . . a flower buds then blooms or fruit ripens; let’s call that process a controlled creation or the unfolding of innate potential, as with a seed. This is what those who care about the Earth work hard to defend, protect, and preserve—the natural cycles.
Further demolition examples
In 2017, investigative journalist, author and filmmaker Greg Palast reported:
“…an eyewitness with devastating new information about the Caspian Sea oil-rig blow-out which BP had concealed from government and the industry.
The witness, whose story is backed up by rig workers who were evacuated from BP’s Caspian platform, said that had BP revealed the full story as required by industry practice, the eleven Gulf of Mexico workers ‘could have had a chance’ of survival. But BP’s insistence on using methods proven faulty sealed their fate.
One cause of the blow-outs was the same in both cases: the use of a money-saving technique, plugging holes with ‘quick-dry’ cement. By hiding the disastrous failure of its penny-pinching cement process in 2008, BP was able to continue to use the dangerous methods in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history.”
As with East Palestine and umpteen other so-called disasters, cutting corners for profit is too-often a factor with controlled demolitions.
“Disasters like these keep happening because the system — the train — keeps rolling, exactly as it was designed to, foisting the consequences onto communities and their environments and hoarding the spoils for the economic elites, while government regulatory agencies issue permits and legalize it all.
“Since this country’s founding, our system of government has placed profits and property interests over people and planet. The derailment in East Palestine illustrates this clearly. For over 150 years, railroad workers have been telling employers like Norfolk Southern and the government that their working conditions are deplorable and dangerous.
“With deregulation of the industry in the 1980s, which included Wall Street mergers and ’short term profit imperatives,’ trains have been getting longer and longer while the number of train workers gets smaller and smaller.”
In Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives, Siddharth Kara writes:
“Villages along the road are coated with airborne debris. There are no flowers to be found. No birds in the sky. No placid streams. No pleasant breezes. The ornaments of nature are gone. All color seems pale and unformed. Only the fragments of life remain. This is Lualaba Province, where cobalt is king.”
Same story again with this headline:
“‘The trees were all gone’: Indonesia’s nickel mines reveal the dark side of our electric future”
To consider these areas as sacrifice zones is a form of mental trickery because it allows people to think that, overall, things are OK, a few bad apples but things are OK in the big apple tree picture. But the other perspective is that things are not OK because continuing to destroy habitats, pollute rivers and air has a cumulative effect. Out of sight, out of mind is no longer an excuse because even with Internet and book censorship, you can often find true information—with a bit of effort.
At Thacker Pass, Lithium Americas’ attempt to destroy the habitat and Native lands for lithium for EVs and other gadgets represents a watershed moment in the global and local greenwashing attempt to revolutionize the extractive energy economy. But the problem with that is, as the word suggests, such ‘revolutions’ wind up back where they started in circular fashion, yet only with a ‘new’ look.
The east coast of Turtle Island is riddled with the aftereffects of the so-called revolution of 1776: New York, New Jersey, New England, New Hampshire, New Haven, New London, New Bedford . . . and on it goes, out to New Mexico and elsewhere. Such ‘newness’ has a track record of destruction and enforced relocation of Native Peoples, and that’s some of what’s on the proverbial table at Thacker Pass.
Shift the narrative . . . dis-invest . . . donate $s . . . employ some monkey-wrenches . . . organize, defend, protest, write something, talk . . . think about a specific area of the in the works controlled demolition that you feel you could literally help thwart. Find a way to do something so as to help prevent yet another control freak demolition. Find a way to do something to preserve “the ornaments of nature” and the lifestyles of those who care for them.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website: www.allbook-books.com
Photo by Valeriy Kryukov on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: The brief piece reflects on the consumer-, expansion- and tech-centered world and calls for shifting our allegiance to the natural world. We thank the author for both the article and the poem.
By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)
“Each and every new product is supposed to offer a dramatic shortcut to the long-awaited promised land of total consumption.”
“… consumer can only get his hands on a succession of fragments of this commodity heaven.”
– Guy Debord, from his book The Society of the Spectacle
The commodified society represents the abandonment of the promise of a religious heaven afterlife for the manifesting of that heaven on earth, a one-click materialized paradise replete with all the right appliances and just the right look, you know, the ones seen in television and magazine ads or glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Heaven is dead” . . . but we’re gonna do our best to get a damned-close facsimile to you with same-day free delivery. But wait, read the fine print, it’s not “free.”
What’s also at risk is dead earth. Already agricultural practices have depleted the soil’s nutrients. Mining continues to wreak havoc:
“Ramshackle slums and makeshift villages spread out from the city center into the ever-decreasing habitable space. Mines occupy at least 80 percent of the developed land in Kolwezi. The green is gone. Arable earth is extinct … Kolwezi is the mangled face of progress in Africa. The hunt for cobalt is all”.
The once actual promised land is being sacrificed for a consumer promised land of shiny gadgets and electric vehicles whose batteries require cobalt. And as the one example of Kolwezi shows, we may actually be on the road to “total consumption,” literally destroying what’s left of the earth so as to be able to send a photo of that destruction via smartphone. What that phone can do may be smart, but the way the phone, laptop and car batteries are being made is cruel and stupid.
A brief look at history shows that the promised land was never really promised, rather stolen land. The God of the Old Testament promised the land of Canaan to His people but the problem there was that, the land “was already inhabited by indigenous peoples…” And, “The first task was to extirpate or “uproot” the non-Hebrew Canaanites from the “promised” land. The second task was to “replant” (repopulate) the promised land with the seed (offspring) of Abraham.”
This then became the template for the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and its patterns of domination and dehumanization spread globally, as explained by Steven T. Newcomb in his book Pagans in the Promised Land:
“During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and the later centuries, the monarchies and nations of Christendom lifted the Old Testament narrative of the chosen people and the promised land from the geographical context of the Middle East and began carrying it over to the rest of the globe. Genesis 1:28’s directive to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over all living things, for example, and Psalms 2:8’s mention of the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’ provided a cognitive basis for the globalization of the Chosen People–Promised Land model during the Age of Discovery.”
As the amount of actual land lessens, nowadays the promised land colonizers have already started planting chips, as in microchip implants, into human beings. The next level is brain chips, the what-could-go-wrong brainchild of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. But “could” has already gone wrong: “The experiments involved 23 monkeys in all. At least 15 of them died or were euthanized by 2020…”
Meanwhile, the Bezos-owned Whole Foods chain is a land flowing with organic milk and local honey. You might as well call the supermarket Promised Land, since it is mostly the cho$en ones who can afford it.
You don’t need to sign a petition or write your congressman or senator (though maybe that will help), simply make a promise to care for the land (and while you’re at it, the water), and see what that promise does to your lifestyle.
Instead of just looking for what the best deals can “promise” you, turn the tables on the approximately 2,000 year old religio-business model and promise to care for the land.
- Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1995, p.45 and p.43.
- Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives – Siddharth Kara, St. Martin’s Press, 2023, p.158.
- Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery – Steven T. Newcomb, Fulcrum Publishing, 2008, p.38 and p.43 and p.43. Also, the documentary film, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.
- “Elon Musk’s Neuralink allegedly subjected monkeys to ‘extreme suffering’”
Origin Story 2023
When The Powers That Bank want to raise hell,
i lower heaven.
When the Corporations want to commodify water
i raise rivers.
When the Environmentalists think solar panels are THE solution
i burn with truth and beauty
making their eyelids open to the Sunrise
as if for the very first time.
When the Developers want to destroy just another patch of trees
for just another warehouse,
i make money grow on their genitals
because it damn sure shouldn’t grow
from cutting down trees.
When the People fail to raise their voices
i rewrite the Origin Story.
How can we begin again
when the ends still justify the mean-spiritedness?
How do we change the trajectory
that wants the hardware
to run roughshod tax free
over the lands of the Burrowing Owl,
the Sagebrush and Sagebrush Sparrow,
the Pygmy Rabbit, the Jackrabbit?
When hearts go cold as Winter ice
i make The Powers That Bank weep
until there is no more need for me to raise the rivers
The word “sustain” is from the root:
—to support from below—
so who else but Earth does that?
In the end that is just another beginning
i will even the score
so that the birds sing again,
the trees stay put again,
and the wind move through again
as when they inspired
my first Origin Story.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website: www.allbook-books.com
Featured image: Golden dart frog via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Editor’s note: The Thacker Pass lithium mine project reflects more than one injustices in the world: greenwashing mines, denying U.S. atrocities against indigenous tribes, grabbing indigenous land against their will, ecocide. This article highlights some of these injustices.
By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
A coalition of conservation groups on Tuesday joined Native American tribes in launching legal challenges to a proposed lithium mine in northern Nevada that critics say was “illegally approved” and will “irreparably damage” the delicate desert ecosystem and land where Indigenous peoples are seeking federal historical recognition of a genocidal massacre perpetrated by U.S. colonizers.
Members of the Western Watersheds Project filed an emergency motion in federal court Tuesday seeking an injunction against the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Humboldt County pending action by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure the project—which would tap into the largest known source of lithium in the United States and was approved during the final days of the Trump administration—complies with federal law.
“This mine should not be allowed to destroy public land unless and until the 9th Circuit has determined whether it was legally approved,” Western Watersheds Project staff attorney Talasi Brooks said in a statement announcing the filing.
“There’s no evidence that Lithium Nevada will be able to establish valid mining claims to lands it plans to bury in waste rock and tailings, but the damage will be done regardless,” Brooks added, referring to the subsidiary of Canada-based Lithium Americas that is seeking to build the mine. Lithium is a key component of electric vehicle batteries, cellphones, and laptops.
The emergency motion follows a lawsuit filed last week by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe in response to U.S. District Judge Miranda Du’s earlier ruling that largely favored Lithium Americas and rejected opponents’ claims that the project would cause “unnecessary and undue degradation” to the environment and wildlife.
“When the decision was made public on the previous lawsuit last week, we said we would continue to advocate for our sacred site PeeHee Mu’Huh. A place where prior to colonization, all our Paiute and Shoshone ancestors lived for countless generations,” Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said in a statement.
“It’s a place where all Paiute and Shoshone people continue to pray, gather medicines and food, honor our nonhuman relatives, honor our water, honor our way of life, honor our ancestors,” Melendez added.
All three tribes call Thacker Pass PeeHee Mu’Huh, which means “rotten moon”—a name given to honor the dozens and perhaps scores of Northern Paiute men, women, and children who were massacred by Nevada Cavalry on September 12, 1865.
According to an account by one participant:
Daylight was just breaking when we came in sight of the Indian camp. All were asleep. We unslung our carbines, loosened our six-shooters, and started into that camp of savages at a gallop, shooting through their wickiups as we came. In a second, sleepy-eyed squaws and bucks and little children were darting about, dazed with the sudden onslaught, but they were shot before they came to their waking senses…
We dismounted to make a closer examination. In one wickiup we found two little papooses still alive. One soldier said, “Make a cleanup. Nits make lice.”
The three tribes assert that all of Thacker Pass should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“While Americans tend to focus on only the proud moments of American history, the shameful history of genocide perpetrated by the American government against Native Americas is nevertheless a broad pattern running throughout American history,” Michon Eben, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s cultural resource manager, wrote in a 2022 letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Eben added that the tribe “considers the destruction of its traditional cultural properties for another mine another act of genocide in the broad pattern running throughout American history.”
Indigenous advocates argue that victims of the 1865 massacre were never properly buried, that human remains and artifacts are still being discovered in Thacker Pass, and that federal authorities failed to properly consult tribes on the mine project in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.
“Part of the federal government’s responsibility is to determine if a proposed mining project may adversely affect historic properties. Historic properties include Native American massacre sites,” Eben told Nevada Current. “The BLM failed in its trust responsibility to tribes and now our ancestors’ final resting place is currently being destroyed at PeeHee Mu’huh.”
“The BLM failed in its trust responsibility to tribes and now our ancestors’ final resting place is currently being destroyed.”
Will Falk, attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass—which set up a protest camp on the site of the proposed mine—accused BLM officials of lying about the massacre site being located outside the project area.
“The Biden administration and [Interior] Secretary Deb Haaland keep paying lip service to tribal rights and respect for Native Americans,” Falk told Last Real Indians last year. “Well, now three federally recognized tribes are saying that BLM Winnemucca did not respect tribal rights. It’s time that BLM halts this project so the tribes can be heard.”
Tim Crowley, vice president of government affairs and community relations for Lithium Nevada, argued in a statement that “since we began this project more than a decade ago, we have been committed to doing things right,” and that Du’s ruling “definitively supported the BLM’s consultation process, and we are confident the ruling will be upheld.”
While global demand for lithium is surging, extraction of the metal can have devastating consequences, including destruction of lands and ecosystems and water contamination.
“Global warming is a serious problem and we cannot continue burning fossil fuels, but destroying mountains for lithium is just as bad as destroying mountains for coal,” contends Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass. “You can’t blow up a mountain and call it green.”
Please donate to support the case and fund legal costs!
Editor’s note: In order to fill the void of fossil fuel supplies caused by the Russia-Ukraine War, countries are opening their land for coal extraction. We recently covered the resistance in Lützerath, Germany. A similar story seems to be unraveling in Australia. The following piece, originally published in Public Eye, follows the tragic Aboriginal land grabbing by corporations spanning two continents. Despite local resistance and vigil for over 400 days, the mines have not yet been stopped.
By Adrià Budry Carbó / Public Eye
With the war in Ukraine forcing Europe to seek alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, Australia is opening dozens of coal mines – and sacrificing its natural and cultural heritage in the process. Local authorities are invoking the consequences of the European war to get projects approved, despite the fact that behind the scenes it is the interests of Glencore and Adani – both based in Switzerland – that are ultimately at play.
In remote areas of Queensland, Aboriginal people and environmentalists are organising resistance to the shovel-and-dynamite lobby, but are coming under increasing pressure from mining groups.
Ochre earth gets everywhere, as gritty as those who walk on it, omnipresent in the semi-desert landscape. A pale-yellow column of smoke – up to 50 metres high – stands out against the horizon. With no high ground to cause an echo, the blast from the deep scar of the Carmichael mine rings out with a sharp bang. The mine is located in the geological basin of Galilee, in the heart of Queensland in north-eastern Australia.
Coedie MacAvoy has witnessed this scene often. Born and raised in the region, the son of an Elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (a guardian of wisdom), the 30-year-old introduces himself with pride. He relates the number of days he has spent occupying the small plot of land situated just in front of the Adani Group’s concession, which the company wants to transform into one of the largest coal mines in the world. On this October afternoon, the count is at 406 days – the same number of days as the camp of the Waddananggu (meaning “discussion” in the Wirdi language) has existed.
This vigil was not enough to prevent the start of production last December, but it’s a big thorn in the side of the ambitious multinational. The company is controlled by the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who became the third richest man in the world (net worth USD 142.4 billion) thanks to booming coal prices (see below). In April 2020, he set up a commercial branch in Geneva with the aim of offloading its coal, and registered with a local fiduciary. According to Public Eye’s sources, Adani benefitted from the support of Credit Suisse, which enabled it to raise USD 27 million in bonds in 2020. After Coal India, Adani has the largest number of planned new coal mines (60) according to the specialist platform Global Coal Mine Tracker. Glencore occupies sixth position in this ranking with 37 planned.
Gautam Adani controls one third of India’s coal imports. As reported by The New Yorker in November 2022, the billionaire is well known in his own country too – for bulldozing villages and forests to dig gigantic coal mines.
In Waddananggu, the ceremonial flames of those known here as “traditional owners” have been burning since 26 August 2021. They are accompanied by various people who come and go; young climate and pro-Aboriginal activists, sometimes together with their children – around 15 people in total. Those who emerge from the tents and barricades to observe the thick column of smoke that is dispersing into the distance are told: “Don’t breathe that shit in!”.
The Austral protestors, the war and the billionaire
With sunburned shoulders, a feather in her felt hat covering her blond hair, Sunny films the cloud of dust moving away to the north-west, towards the surrounding crops and scattered cattle. Sunny denounces the destruction of Aboriginal artefacts that are as old as the hills, and is documenting all the blasts from this mine which – after around 15 years of legal wrangling – is expanding at top speed.
After two years of pandemic, coal mines are producing at full throttle to capitalise on historically high prices. Following the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February last year, Australian coal (the most suitable substitute for Russian coal in terms of quality) is selling at three times the average price of the past decade. Countries highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, like Poland, have been begging Australia to increase its exports of thermal coal. In Queensland, the authorities even took advantage of the situation to support particularly unpopular projects, such as Adani’s.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, 3.3 million tonnes of Australian coal have been exported to Europe, according to data provided to Public Eye by the specialist agency Argus Media. Close to half of these exports (1.4 million tonnes) was dispatched on 11 bulk carriers from the Abbot Point terminal, which opens onto the Coral Sea in the north-east of the country, and is also controlled by Adani.
Sunny is indignant: “They shouldn’t detonate when the wind is like this”, she says. “They shouldn’t do it at all – but even less so today!”
For Adani, the objective is to reach 10 million tonnes’ production until the end of 2022. If the group seems to be in a tearing hurry, it’s because its project was initially aiming to produce 60 million tonnes per year, transported 300 kilometres via a dual railway line to Abbot Point. This port is only a few dozen kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef: designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, it is considered to be “endangered”, according to a report by UN experts published at the end of November 2022. From here, coal is loaded onto bulk carriers to be burned – primarily in Indian, Chinese and Korean power-plants – nearly 10,000 kilometres from there.
For Grant Howard, a former miner from the region of Mackay who spent 30 years working in the industry, the mine is an environmental and logistical aberration: “Carmichael only makes commercial sense because Adani owns all the infrastructure and makes the Indian population pay too much for energy”.
Grant became an environmentalist and withdrew to the “bush” to be closer to nature. He denounces this “anachronistic” project that is threatening to act as a Trojan Horse for other mega mining projects in the Galilee Basin, which had not been exploited until Gautam Adani’s teams arrived.
“People who continue to extract thermal coal don’t have a moral compass”, he laments.
Australia has the third-largest coal reserves in the world, enough to continue production for four centuries.
When contacted, Credit Suisse claims to be fulfilling its responsibilities in relation to climate change. “We recognise that financial flows should also be aligned with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement”, its media service states, providing assurances that, in 2021, the bank reduced its financial exposure to coal by 39 percent.
On the other hand, the spokesperson did not specify whether a client like Adani, which makes most of its revenues from coal and is planning to open new thermal coal mines, would be excluded from financing in the future. “The position of Credit Suisse in terms of sustainability is based on supporting our clients through the transition towards low-carbon business models that are resilient to climate change”, they explain.
The country’s bloody history
For Coedie MacAvoy, this is very much a personal affair. In support of the fight of his “old man” – his father Adrian Burragubba went bankrupt in legal proceedings against the multinational – he occupied the Carmichael site on his own in 2019 in order to “reclaim pieces of property” on his ancestral lands. In doing so he created a blockade against Adani’s construction teams. He survived two weeks of siege before the private security services completely cut off his supply lines.
The same man has led the rebellion since August 2021, but he is no longer alone. “I am contesting the basic right of the government to undertake a compulsory acquisition of a mining lease”, declares Coedie. With piercing green eyes, a rapper’s flow, and his totem tattooed on his torso, the rebel-looking, young man – who has an air of fight the power – is happy to continue the lineage of activists occupying the trees. “I’m not a greenie from inner Melbourne”, asserts the Aborigine.
The local Queensland government finally abolished native people’s land rights in 2019 in order to give them to the mining company, which has treated them like intruders ever since. However, following harsh opposition from Coedie and his father, they were vindicated by the courts, who gave them the right to occupy their land “to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage” provided that they don’t interfere with mining activity.
It’s a loophole in the law linked to this region’s bloody history, and to the conditions under which the land was acquired from the Aborigines. Coedie MacAvoy explains: “You know, the whites arrived in Clermont in 1860 at the time of my great-grand father. They basically shot all fighting-age males.” Aboriginal people were only included in the Australian population census in 1967. The Australian (federal) Constitution still doesn’t afford them specific rights. “We learned to wield the sword and use it to the best of our abilities. We opened Pandora’s Box”, Coedie MacAvoy maintains proudly. He kept the Irish name “borrowed” by his grandfather. Very much at ease like a tribal leader, he teaches the youngest generation Wirdi and dreams of creating an Esperanto of Aboriginal dialects, because “everything I say or do is recognised as a cultural act”. This enrages the Adani Group, which is determined to hold on to its mining concession, and frequently calls the police, though based nearly 180 kilometres away.
Public Eye witnessed how aggressive the multinational can be towards people who take an interest in its activities. During our investigation in the field, a private security services’ SUV followed us along the public road that leads to the mine, and filmed us getting out of the vehicle in front of the Waddananggu camp. Several hours later, a letter arrived by mail at Public Eye’s headquarters with an order to leave the area – “leave immediately and do not return” – and banning us from broadcasting the images filmed on site. The letter concluded by citing that a complaint had been filed with the local police and leaving no doubt as to the threat of legal proceedings.
Public Eye sent a detailed list of questions to Adani. The company did not wish to divulge any plans for its branch in Geneva or its ambitions for the development of the Carmichael mine, nor did it wish to discuss its attitude towards its critics. On the other hand, the multinational “completely” rejected our questions implying that its activities or businesses have acted in an irresponsible manner or contrary to applicable laws and regulations. “It is disappointing that Public Eye is using its privileged position as an organisation based in an extremely wealthy and developed country to seek to deprive the poorest people in the world from accessing the same reliable and affordable energy that advanced economies have been benefitting from for decades” concludes their response, sent by a spokesperson from the Australian branch of the company.
Yet, the data available to Public Eye shows that a substantial part of Adani’s coal production has been redirected towards ports in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the UK. Thus, not really the “poorest people in the world”.
Big money – and heroes in hard hats
The fight led by the Coedie family against the multinational may seem unbalanced. Both the federal and Queensland governments have rolled out the red carpet for mining companies, who given the historically high prices of coal must be bringing in AUD 120 billion (CHF 76 billion) in export revenues for 400 million tonnes of thermal coal (destined for electricity production) and metallurgical coal (for industrial use).
The Zug-based multinational Glencore is the largest mining company in the country with 15 mines (representing two-thirds of its production). With its Australian, Chinese and Japanese competitors, and the aforementioned Adani, it forms a powerful network of influence that has its own friends in the media and political circles. In Queensland, the coal lobby claims to contribute AUD 58.8 billion (over CHF 37 billion) to the local economy, along with 292,000 jobs, of which 35,000 are direct.
In June 2015, the former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott described the Adani project as a “poverty-busting miracle that would put Australia on the path to becoming an energy superpower”. The Indian group obtained a tax break and an opaque years-long moratorium on its royalties. Under pressure, the authorities finally refrained from awarding a loan to the multinational to enable it to develop its railway line. In 2019, a report by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis – a think tank examining questions linked to energy markets and policies – estimated the value of these “gifts” at over CHF 2.7 billion, a sum large enough to actually make the project viable.
In 2017, the journalist and tour operator Lindsay Simpson went to the homeland of Gautam Adani in the Indian state of Gujarat with a group of Australian activists. Their mission was to disrupt the company’s General Assembly and to intercept the Prime Minister of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was there on an official visit. Simpson told her:
The first meeting between Lindsay Simpson and the Adani Group dates back to 2013. Having acquired the Abbot Point terminal two years earlier, the Indian company wanted to increase its capacity through spectacular works undertaken directly in the Coral Sea. To do this, it sought to persuade the tourism sector to back a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredged sediments directly in the sea. At the time, the former crime journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald had already switched to offering sailing cruises and refused to approve a related document, produced by Adani and endorsed by the Central Tourism Association, as she held the document to be made “against compensation”.
Today, Lindsay Simpson describes herself as an author of fiction and of 11 detective novels based on real crimes, “including that of Adani”: Adani, Following Its Dirty Footsteps (2018). In the book, she relates the kowtowing of local politicians to the Australian mining industry. Drawing a parallel between the colonialisation of Australia and its history of mining, she attacks the ongoing and hypocritical “tributes” paid to these “male working-class heroes in hard hats”.
Queensland’s first coal deposits were discovered in 1825, to the west of Brisbane, at a time when the region served as a penal colony for the British Crown. The large-scale exploitation of sedimentary rock that resulted, when the region became a free territory two decades later, fuelled the steamboats despatching the first colonisers.
In the “countries”, those rural areas located in the interior of Australia, the population continues to depend on these jobs, which constitute an almost exclusive source of income, along with agriculture. In the villages of Collinsville, Clermont or Emerald – where several of Glencore’s mines are located – the obstructionism of environmentalists and of defenders of Aboriginal rights is more readily criticised than the impact of extractivism. The arrival of journalists is rarely viewed positively and few agree to speak with a media outlet “whose agenda they don’t share”.
Making a living for the kids
Luke Holmes is an exception. However, bumping into him while he was watching his herd on his quadbike, he insists on the need to create jobs: “The kids need to be able to continue to work. You won’t become a doctor here.” He spits out his chewing tobacco; his two dogs panting in the background. Luke himself spent some 15 years working for a mining company, which enabled him to put aside the funds needed to purchase enough land to live off. Entry-level salaries are easily as much as AUD 45 an hour (CHF 29), nearly double that for highly qualified workers. Food and accommodation are also provided. Even though he remains grateful to Big Coal, the farmer admits that “regulation is far more flexible for coal mines than for farmers.”
It’s indeed the Coal King who reigns in this region, barely tolerating cohabitation. According to official figures, in Australia there are currently 68 projects in the pipeline to expand or open new mines, half of which are in Queensland. Faced with the rise of coal mining, some farming families have become resigned to experiencing their second expropriation with stifled sobs. To compensate, the mining companies negotiate case-by-case compensation arrangement that are accompanied by sensational announcements highlighting the benefits for local communities and the number of jobs created. Adani had promised 1,500 jobs during the construction phase and 6,750 indirect jobs. These figures have since been revised significantly downwards.
Associate Professor in environmental engineering, Matthew Currell is concerned about the impact of the coal mines over the water resources in these semi-arid regions: “The government of Queensland awarded Adani a license to pump as much subterranean water as its wants”. Impact studies were not properly conducted, denounces the author of the column: “Australia listened to the science on coronavirus. Imagine if we did the same for coal mining”. For this researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), there is a clear risk of contamination or drying out of the ecosystem of water sources of Doongmabulla, which is home to communities of rare vegetation that are sacred for the Aborigines. This danger has been ignored in the face of economic and electoral interests.
The dealer and his metaphors
There is a more worrying problem at the global level – that of fossil-fuel emissions. For a long time, the debate was focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by the combustion of coal. A criticism to which lobbyists have often responded by shifting the problem to the countries where the coal is consumed.
“It’s the defence of the dealer – I’m simply selling heroine, I’m not responsible for the consumers”, maintains Peter MacCallum.
In late September, the local government also announced in a fanfare that it wanted to phase out thermal coal from domestic energy consumption by 2035. No mention was made of exporting it, however. An announcement that moved Peter MacCallum to comment ironically: “This will bring us in line with Switzerland – our hands will be clean!”
Logically, environmental opposition focuses increasingly on the problem of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is released at the point of extraction of fossil fuels. Eighty-two times more powerful than CO2, for a century it has been responsible for the increase of 0.5 degrees in global temperatures, according to one of the IPCC’s latest reports. In Australia – the industrialised country most vulnerable to climate disasters, as evidenced by the rise in sea levels or forest fires – the heart of environmental concern is shifting from burning coal to its extraction and processing. In this scenario, the “dealer-as-producer-country” metaphor evoked above ceases to apply.
New satellite imaging from NASA enabled the research agency Ember to produce a report in June 2022 analysing the methane leaks from all the coal mines in Australia. This was made possible by images produced by a satellite belonging to the US space agency Nasa. They found that these mines produce nearly double the amount of pollution caused by motorised traffic. This situation is set to worsen with the mining projects in the Galilee Basin, such as that of Adani, which have a life of several decades.
Among the most polluting open-cast mines is Hail Creek: in 2018, Glencore bought a majority shareholding and its approximately 7 million tonnes of production. Satellite images show that the mine leaks over 10 times the quantity of methane declared by Glencore to the regulatory authorities. Contacted several weeks in advance, the Zug-based group refused to let us visit the mine, citing “annual budget reviews” as the reason. Nonetheless, at the site entrance from the public road that leads solely to the mine and its checkpoint there is a sign that cites openness and responsibility as among Glencore’s values. When questioned, the company sent us an information sheet on the question of methane emissions. It describes the phenomenon as being linked to open-cast mines, vaunts their efforts to reduce leaks (by burning the gas or capturing it to convert it into electricity) and raises doubts as to the use of satellite imagery “of a discontinuous nature” when compared against their annual emissions declarations.
In Queensland, it’s nevertheless becoming hard to ignore climate change. The Great Barrier Reef, which is the region’s pride and joy and extends over 2000 kilometres, is being ravaged by increasingly violent cyclones and an acceleration of the phenomenon of coral-bleaching. According to a government report, in May 2022 a prolonged heatwave affected 91 percent of the reef. This was the fourth heatwave since 2016. The tourism industry is usually tight lipped on the subject, to avoid discouraging budding divers and sailors. However, tongues are starting to wag.
Born in California, Tony Fontes arrived on the shores of Airlie Beach in 1979 “to live his dream of diving on the reef”. He has never left. However, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered so much that today the experience is not the same as it used to be. “It’s an omerta. Instead of uniting to counter the interests of mining companies that harm tourism, operators prefer to deny the consequences of climate change out of fear that the tourists won’t come back anymore”, he denounces. For her part, Lindsay Simpson has observed the arrival of a new phenomenon that she calls disaster tourism; namely, visitors rushing to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s too late.
The industry’s halcyon days
Yet the coal industry still has a big future. In April 2020, between the areas of Capella and Emerald, Glencore submitted permit applications for the construction of what could become the largest mine in Australia – six coal shafts producing 20 million tonnes a year. Codename: Valeria Project. Start of work in 2024, with a duration of 30 months – with the accompanying rail and electricity infrastructure. The contract is valid for 37 years, or until well after 2050, the date at which the Zug-based group committed to becoming “net zero” in terms of its greenhouse-gas emissions.
In February 2019, under pressure from its investors, the multinational – then managed by Ivan Glasenberg – committed to limiting its coal production to 150 million tonnes per year. In 2021, a year still impacted by the pandemic, it produced 103.3 million tonnes. Since then, Glencore has not hesitated to acquire its competitors’ shares in the Colombian Cerrejón mine, which will add 14 million tonnes to its own production.
Within the approximately 10,000 hectares that Valeria will occupy in the area, Glencore has already largely marked out its territory. Nine families have already been evicted and the site, on which there are two state forests, has been almost entirely fenced off. The only remaining inhabitant is a helicopter pilot living in a small house, who is waiting for his lease to expire in January 2023.
In the newsagent in Capella, which also serves as an information centre, the shop assistant hands visitors a brochure produced by Glencore, dated May 2022. It summarises the timetable of operations. “It has been going for many years. It does not come as a surprise”, she relates with an air of resignation. “We have many mines around. We know what this is about.”
One farmer, who did not wish to be named, is not pleased to be sitting “in the dust of Glencore”. In Australia, mines are emptying the countryside. Largely because the group does not have a terrific record in terms of relations with its neighbours, according to the farmer. His property shares a border of many kilometres with the future Valeria mine. Even though he has no desire to leave “this land that gave us so much and is part of us”, the inconvenience resulting from the extraction of coal will force him to.”
“People in Switzerland should realise just how invasive the mining industry is”, he says gravely.
On Aboriginal land
Scott Franks is in total agreement with this. When he opposed Glencore’s expansion project at its Glendell mine, located on the lands of his Wonnarua ancestors, the Aborigine found himself named and targeted (along with another activist) in a full page published in a local media outlet. It presented him as “seeking to stop the project” and any industrial activity over a surface area of 156km2 in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, putting 3000 jobs at stake. “The strategy is to turn the mining community against Aboriginal people – the ‘black folk’. We supported all the mines up to now, but we only have 3 percent of our land left”, says Scott bitterly.
The Glendell expansion project would impact the historic site of a massacre at an Aboriginal camp (36 deaths) perpetrated in 1826 by the Mounted Police. In its announcement, Glencore – who wanted to relocate a farm – asserts that in reality the massacre took place 20 kilometres away from the site in question, and contests the land rights of the two opponents, as well as their legitimacy in representing the Wonnarua people. In late October, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) refused to grant Glencore a permit to expand its Glendell mine. When contacted, the mining company said that it was considering appealing against the decision given that “the 1826 massacre occurred on properties outside of the Ravensworth estate” and “the current homestead was built after the 1826 massacre”. In its response, the multinational also cited its programmes to rehabilitate mine sites and its support for young Aborigines. “We recognise the unique relationship of Indigenous peoples with the environment”, states Glencore. “We engage in good faith negotiation, seeking relationships based on respect, meaningful engagement, trust and mutual benefit.” Scott Franks’ critical response is:
“Glencore only deals with the communities it can buy off”.
In fact, Glencore appears to be increasingly concerned about its image, following the wave of court proceedings brought against it in recent years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland. In Switzerland, as in Australia, the coal giant seeks to position itself as a major actor in energy transition, highlighting its role in mining copper and cobalt, which are essential for the production of electric batteries. In Australia, its campaign entitled Advancing Everyday Life earned it a complaint for “misleading or deceptive conduct” from the consumer protection body and investors. The Swiss Coalition for responsible multinationals, of which Public Eye is a member, also attacked Glencore for “greenwashing” due to its campaign of posters in public transport and train stations in Switzerland. However, this will not easily undermine the multinational, which asserts that the three accusations were rejected. Nor will it prevent Glencore from opening new mines, just as its competitor Adani is doing.
Humour and a torch
However, at Waddananggu, Coedie MacAvoy doubtlessly has skin as thick as his father’s. He also has humour as gritty as the earth when it gets into the engines of 4x4s. At the camp entrance, he has placed numerous signs warning against non-authorised entry, at the risk of standing trial before tribal justice: “Have you seen my sign? It looks just like any other sign, and in a world full of signs nobody can tell the difference any more”. Last year, he organized his own “Carmichael Tour”, the longest leg of a ride that brought together over a hundred cyclists within the perimeter of Adani’s concession. “We have the moral ground: we are living, so we are winning.” assures the thirty-year-old.
Coedie MacAvoy was living in the regional capital, Brisbane, when the mining project was launched. He openly admits: “I don’t think that my family would have come back to this region, the place that my grandfather left at gunpoint, if it had not been for Adani”. Does Coedie, who grew up listening to his father’s words, not want to rebel against his familial destiny to do something else? Does he not feel that he has inherited a never-ending conflict? “I don’t think that my father’s generation could have been the deciding factor. They still harbour too much trauma and anger.”
On the horizon, the sun is setting over Carmichael. The cloud of dust has dissipated, and the mine is now shrouded in silence. Coedie MacAvoy takes advantage of these peaceful moments to plant a palm tree that he hopes will bear fruit in a few years’ time.
Gautam Adani – a fortune on steroids
Billionaires often evoke their modest beginnings. The son of a textile trader from Gujarat (in western India), one of eight siblings, Gautam Adani is no exception to the rule. After humble beginnings as a trader, the Adani Group, founded in 1988, swiftly diversified into port and airport infrastructure, power plants, coal mines, real estate and – more recently – media.
The rapid rise of the Adani empire was achieved thanks to a perfusion of finance and the largesse of numerous international banks. The most heavily indebted group in India has some USD 8 billion in bonds denominated in other currencies in circulation, according to Bloomberg data. The conglomerate is divided into a network of multiple companies, of which seven are publicly listed.
The energy market crisis that followed the war in Ukraine was a boon for this auto-proclaimed “self-made man”. Backed by high coal and gas prices, both his companies and personal fortune made him the world’s third richest man. In May 2022, the Swiss cement company Holcim sold him its assets in India for USD 10.5 billion.
However, in India, the close relations between Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been criticized. Modi also comes from Gujarat, and was Chief Minister for the state when the businessman benefitted from new laws setting up free trade zones (which benefit from tax benefits to attract investors) where he was planning to set up some of his infrastructure. When campaigning to become Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had the use of a plane made available by the Adani Group to take him home every evening.
Gautam Adani has little appreciation for the interest in his links to the Prime Minister. This is the interpretation of his offensive in the Indian media landscape last August to take control of NDTV, one of the channels that remains critical of the Indian government. He is nevertheless well known for not appreciating questions. “Adani has a long history of intimidation of journalists and activists that he won’t hesitate to bring charges against”, states Stephen Lang, an investigative journalist for the Australian public channel ABC. In Gujarat in 2017, the local police forced his team of reporters to leave the region. His journalists were investigating the group’s tax evasion activities and attempting to speak to fishermen displaced by one of Adani’s port terminals.
Featured Image: Maules Creek coal mine by Leard State Forest via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Editor’s Note: The following Mongabay article is based on a recent study that found that marginalized subsistence communities are driving deforestation due to poverty. The article also writes that deforestation caused by these communities cannot still be compared to industrial deforestation. It is understandable that basic needs may drive people towards deforestation. But where does the poverty come from? It is unfortunate that the communities that once lived harmoniously with the forests are now doing the opposite. Why are they now unable to do so in the same forests?
It may be that the forests that they live in now do not produce as much as they used to in the past, or that the number of people dependent on the forests now exceeds the carrying capacity of the forests. Both of these are a possibility. Humans are currently in a population overshoot. Forests across the world are being used for industrial purposes, leaving less for the subsistence communities. In addition, the overall destruction of the environment has impacted the health, and hence productivity, of natural communities. In technical terms this is called “absolute poverty,” where a person’s basic needs are unmet. A related concept is that of “relative poverty,” where a person’s income is far less than the societal norms. In this type of poverty, the person thinks of himself/herself as poor in comparison to others he/she is exposed to on a daily basis. Exposure to the industrial culture is a tool that different states have employed to assimilate indigenous populations and, thus, destroy their culture. This turns indigenous cultures against their landbases: harmonious relationships are replaced by exploitative ones. While it is necessary to acknowledge this trend, it is also worth pointing out that a lot of the indigenous communities are risking their lives to protect their landbases.
By Kimberley Brown/Mongabay
- Subsistence communities can drive forest loss to meet their basic needs when external pressures, poverty and demand for natural resources increase, says a new study unveiling triggers that turn livelihoods from sustainable into deforestation drivers.
- The impact of subsistence communities on forest loss has not been quantified to its true extent, but their impact is still minimal compared to that of industry, researchers say.
- Deforestation tends to occur through shifts in agriculture practices to meet market demands and intensified wood collecting for charcoal to meet increasing energy needs.
- About 90% of people globally living in extreme poverty, often subsistence communities, rely on forests for at least part of their livelihoods—making them the first ones impacted by forest loss.
Subsistence communities, those who live off the forest and lead largely sustainable lifestyles, can actually become drivers of forest loss and degradation under certain circumstances, according to a new study. This happens when external changes put pressure on their traditional lifestyles.
This could be anything from market demands that shift agriculture practices to increased populations in need of resources living in forest areas. These shifts could make communities another alarming source of carbon emissions, say researchers.
Subsistence communities have often been associated with low environmental impact and a small carbon footprint. But as external pressures and demand for natural resources increase, these communities tend to intensify their forest activities to meet their basic needs, at the same time releasing more carbon stocks into the atmosphere from forest destruction, according to researchers.
In the new study published in the journal Carbon Footprints, researchers set out to look at this phenomenon on a global scale. They did a systemic review of 101 scientific reports, all based in the tropics, to see if they could identify the livelihood activities and triggers that lead to forest degradation. Thirty-nine reports are in Africa, 33 in Asia, and 29 in Latin America.
The authors point out that these are the same sustainable communities, such as Indigenous and local people (IPLCs), that will be the first ones impacted by forest loss and climate change, as they continue to depend on these diminishing forests and tend to be materially poor or deprived.
About 90% of people living in extreme poverty depend on forest resources for their survival, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“At the end of the day, these communities need support, and their impact, I think, while it has not been quantified to its true extent, their impact is still minimal compared to what the energy industry does,” says Wendy Francesconi, author of the report and senior environmental scientist with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
Their initial aim of the research was to collect data about how much forest cover is lost due to sustainable communities, but this proved too challenging to track, says Francesconi. Their impact is minimal and not documented as well as larger scale or industrial drivers of deforestation.
“I think one of the key messages is that we have to start paying more attention to these communities and how to support them better because they also have power in numbers—and impact in numbers,” she tells Mongabay via video call.
The authors identified two main activities the communities engaged in that became the main drivers of forest loss or degradation: intensified wood collecting (particularly for firewood or charcoal) and agriculture.
Other activities include illegal practices such as illicit crops or illegal logging and mining. The latter has been a growing concern for environmentalists who have seen Indigenous communities engage in illegal mining in Brazil and logging in Indonesia to supplement their income.
The factors pushing these changes include increased local population pressures in conjunction with changing lifestyles, availability of alternative labor, land tenure rights, market access, governance, migration, and access to technology.
External factors were highly context-dependent, however, and not all of them led to forest loss in all cases. A larger household size, for example, was associated with higher deforestation in most cases; but some case studies showed a higher likelihood for large families to share resources among each other, resulting in lower demand for resources and less forest loss, such as one case in Ethiopia.
It’s important to understand these dynamics so we don’t start to see “a more vicious cycle, where deforestation creates more poverty, then more deforestation, then more poverty, etc.” Martha Vanegas Cubillos, senior research associate at the Alliance for Biodiversity International and CIAT and another author of the study, tells Mongabay via video call.
Changing livelihoods in Indonesia
One of the studies analyzed from Asia looks at the impact of mangrove deforestation in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and its socioeconomic consequences. The 2016 study identified that the total area of mangroves decreased by 3,344 hectares (8,263 acres), or 66.05%, in the study area of the Takalar District between 1979 and 2011.
The majority of this loss was for the creation of shrimp ponds, mainly driven by local fishermen changing their livelihoods to shrimp farming. There are two reasons for this shift: as an export product, shrimp have more stable prices, but also government incentives, like credit and subsidies, were available for farmers to expand shrimp ponds, says the report.
This forest loss had a number of impacts on the local community, as it reduced the area where they could continue with their traditional use of the mangroves, like collecting firewood, house materials, and fish traps. It also exposed them to coastal erosion and saltwater into their territory, and released the rich carbon stocks stored in the mangrove trees, says the report.
This shift in production made the communities here more vulnerable, as they put all their eggs in one basket, centralizing their earnings in shrimping, and removing the protective cover of the mangroves from climate changes, says Ole Mertz, professor in the department of geosciences and natural resource management at the University of Copenhagen, and one of the authors of the South Sulawesi study.
But Mertz is skeptical that any global generalizations can be made from a literature review alone, referring to the Carbon footprints study, saying these drivers are often context-dependent.
Speaking from his experience working with communities in South East Asia, the most important driver of forest loss by smallholder communities – a term he prefers to ‘sustainable communities’, which he considers an inaccurate generalization – has been the political pressure to develop land to something more productive.
This includes policies to promote industries like palm oil, rubber, or, in the case of South Sulawesi, shrimp ponds, which has more to do with political decisions rather than the community’s socioeconomic situation, he says.
“Poverty might in some cases be driving deforestation, but I think it’s always in combination with other things, with other drivers,” he tells Mongabay.
More energy needs, more deforestation in the DRC
Communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are already feeling these external pressures, says Raymond Achu Samndong, a manager at the Tenure Facility, an IPLC organization based in Sweden.
In his 2018 paper – which was included in the Carbon footprints literature analysis – Samndong and fellow researchers take a closer look at deforestation at the community level in the Bikoro and Gemena regions, two REDD+ project areas in the DRC. After conducting interviews in the communities, 82% of households said they engaged in some type of forest clearing in the year prior to the study, despite the REDD+ incentives not to deforest.
All of them said it was for agriculture purposes, like moving or expanding crop area, while some also said it was for wood collection, either for charcoal production or artisanal logging. Charcoal and firewood are the main sources of energy in the DRC, with only 9% of the population having access to electricity, including in the capital Kinshasa.
As energy needs increase, particularly for businesses and restaurants in the city, the traditional use of charcoal is now a concerning driver of deforestation.
The main decision to clear forests in the REDD+ areas was economic poverty, lack of alternative livelihood or income generation, and lack of basic infrastructure and services, says the study.
Samndong says communities he’s worked with in the DRC are already seeing the effects of climate change, as changing weather patterns have reduced their harvest. They are aware that more deforestation will contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss, but community members tell him they don’t have any economic alternatives, “it’s like a survival strategy,” he tells Mongabay by a video call from his home in Sweden.
Solutions to deforestation should look at all the dimensions and drivers of it, not just depend on one economic incentive, like REDD+, to address it, adds the study. Better land use planning, tenure rights to communities, and more accountable institutions are among the needed solutions, researchers point out.
But Samndong says it’s essential that communities be involved in these plans. Billions of dollars have already been spent on development programs in the region over the years and nothing has changed, he elaborates.
“The problem is that development programs have been very challenging in Congo because they are mostly top-down,” he tells Mongabay, adding local communities still know and understand their local forests better than experts in the capital, or abroad.
Conflict and cash crops in Colombia
Deforestation in Colombia has long been a problem but has skyrocketed since 2016 when the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government signed peace agreements to try to stem the conflict. Deforestation in parts of Colombia then accelerated—reaching a peak in 2017 with 219,552 hectares (542,524 acres) of forest loss—as the FARCs left many strongholds in the forests and mountainsides, which opened up previously forested areas to illegal economic development, such as growing small coca fields for cocaine production as cash crops.
One study published in 2013 takes a closer look at the conditions under which local communities plant coca. Their research, included in the Carbon Footprints analysis, found a direct correlation between coca cultivation areas and those deemed Rural Unsatisfied Basic Needs areas, indicating that poverty was a major factor in areas where communities engage in coca cultivation. The others include weakness and low presence of the state, violence and armed conflict, inaccessibility, and favorable biophysical conditions.
Vanegas Cubillos, who has long been working with communities in Colombia and Peru, says Colombia is a very particular case, as the ongoing armed conflict has greatly impacted rural communities. Migration and forced displacements have forced communities to inhabit new territories, often causing some level of deforestation in areas where fertile lands are scarce.
Both in Colombia and on a global scale, there are opportunities for both the public and private sectors to create economic benefits for communities, and to break the cycle of deforestation, she says.
“Until they realize that they really have to pay attention to these communities,” she says, “I think that this is a problem that can continue to get worse.”
Featured image: Indigenous Tikuna paddling a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon by Rhett A. Butler via Mongabay.
Editor’s Note: The mainstream environmental movement has been co-opted not only into believing that renewables can save the planet, but also in the tactics used to accomplish that. A lot of the movement uses advocacy as the one and only strategy against systems of power. The main problem with the advocacy is that it places power in the hands of the state and diminishes the power that we have as individuals and as communities. On the contrary, the organizing model recognizes the power that we hold and focuses on increasing that power through collective, coordinated actions. (For more on this, read Jane McAlevey’s book “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in a New Gilded Age.”)
This is an editorial piece by Hugo Blanco, a Peruvian peasant and political figure. It is a call to action for all to recognize the power we have as individuals and as communities to organize into a powerful social movement.
Republish from CLIMATE&CAPITALISM
At times we are struck by a feeling of reporting the same news over and over again. Such as the death of a Kukama child poisoned by leaking oil, together with the memory of other deaths marked by the same, obscenely inhuman cruelty. The same news of a river filling up with crude oil or a mine tailing killing our people. And another horrific murder inside a police station, the mob of uniformed beasts furiously beating vulnerable children, pregnant women and the elderly.
It is perhaps because the people’s life of the last 530 years has been one of struggle, resisting the death that comes brandishing and bullets.
Nonetheless, we are now well aware that these attacks by the capitalist system — pollution, persecution, and prison — are neither accidental nor isolated incidents. Rather, they are planned, strategic acts of war against the people, in the service of the growth of capitalist development. That is, not for the development of alternatives but of ever-increasing profits.
The Mapuche people and the women of Iran, the communities of Colombia’s Cauca Valley, the Zapatistas, and dark-skinned immigrants are not suffering collateral damage, nor are they affected just by economic interests. Rather, they are military targets of those protecting the transnational corporations and banks that deal in gold, gas, timber, water and crops. It is all about money and power.
At times the military objective is the people’s consciousness, in which case they spread a mass of lies and nonsense that can still end up convincing the public. We can come to believe, for example, that it is a very good idea to become the world’s largest exporter of asparagus, leading to eliminating the biodiversity by planting only asparagus. The crop is kept far from us while the people starve in a landscape rendered sterile.
Or it can seem reasonable that the high mountains are worthless in their natural state, that the waters are polluted in order to make us the leading exporter of copper, and again we are left with the with the hill health that comes from living in a sterile environment.
All of this is for our benefit in name only, as those who profit from these services are not the ones who dig and sow. We are left with nothing but the land rendered sterile.
Later they will tell us that our votes are needed in order to ensure that all of this can change. We will have to participate in the elections, join the campaigns and cast the right votes. However, it is hard to believe that when we know that over there in the national government they take by centimeters what has been lost by kilometers in our forests.
And it is harder still when we catch on that official justice is just another mercenary bought and paid for. (Just look at how many corrupt prosecutors are at large in Abya-Yala, holding hands with the genocidal armed forces while in the embrace of servile news media!)
Social movements in defense of our territories — whether at the level of the community, neighborhood, individual, spirituality or consciousness — are our hope to tackle hunger, sickness and environmental destruction. And it is by organizing and sharing our experiences that we can progress from demanding our rights to recovering our lost autonomy. There are as many realities in the struggle for life as there are landscapes in our Mother Earth. Each people has its own altitude, latitude, language and history.
In the beginning God had it easy, as He only had to create where there was nothing. We, on the other hand, have to create in the midst of pain, alienation and discouragement; we have to clean up the polluted rivers while keeping up our courage.
But that is what we are here for, to transform the world and ourselves. The sun and rain will be there for us in our struggle.
This is the Editorial from the current issue of Lucha Indígena, the newspaper published by Peruvian peasant leader and ecosocialist Hugo Blanco. Translation courtesy of Christopher Starr. Derek Wall’s biography, Hugo Blanco: A Revolutionary for Life, is an excellent account of Blanco’s lifelong struggle for indigenous rights.