Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Editor’s note: The 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami, was one of the worst nuclear accidents of the twenty-first century to date. Nevertheless, worse ones might come in the future. In the quest for energy to fuel the machine, industrial civilization has built many vulnerable hazardous structures that can unleash highly toxic materials in the case of an “accidents.” Despite eleven years since the incident, TEPCO and the Japanese government haven’t been able to manage the waste water. Now, they are planning to dump it into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the Pacific Ocean home to numerous marine creatures, it is also a source of livelihood for the humans who live near: the humans that the Japanese government claims to care for as their citizens. This decision by the Japanese government demonstrates, yet again, that decisions in this civilization are not made based on public welfare.

More nuclear power means more weapons, more mining on indigenous lands,  more CO2 emissions, more radioactive waste and more accidents.


“We must remind Japan that if the radioactive nuclear wastewater is safe, just dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris and store it in Washington, but keep our Pacific nuclear-free.” (Vanuatu’s celebrated former ‘Turaga Chief’ Motarilavoa Hilda Lini)

In the face of considerable worldwide criticism, TEPCO is moving ahead with its well-advertised plans to dump contaminated water from storage tanks at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster zone into the Pacific Ocean. They are running out of storage space and the Pacific Ocean is conveniently right next door.

The Japanese government is courting trouble, as a contracting party to: (1) the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (2) the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and (3) the Convention on Nuclear Safety, Japan has knowingly violated all three conventions by making the decision to dump contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO’s toxic dumping scheme is opposed by some scientists as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded marine laboratories, e.g., the U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories, with over 100 member laboratories, has issued a position paper strongly opposing the toxic dumping because of a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data in support of Japan’s assertions of safety.

The position paper: “We urge the government of Japan to stop pursing their planned and precedent-setting release of the radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean and to work with the broader scientific community to pursue other approaches that protect ocean life; human health; and those communities who depend on ecologically, economically, and culturally valuable marine resources.”

Furthermore, Marine Laboratories agrees with the Pacific Island Forum’s suggestion that TEPCO look at options other than discharge. The toxic dumping plan has already put Japan at risk of losing its status as a Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partner. There are 21 partners, including the US, China, the UK, France, and the EU. According to Secretary General Henry Puna, the Forum has persistently requested Japan to share pivotal data, which has not been forthcoming: “In fact, we are very serious, and we will take all options to get Japan to at least cooperate with us by releasing the information that our technical experts are asking of them.”

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has endorsed the dumping plan. No surprise there. Also unsurprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the marketing arm for nuclear power, claims the dumping proposal is safe. Effective December 29, 2022, IAEA released an extensive report that details how the process will be monitored by independent entities, not to worry, uh-uh.

TEPCO generates 100 cubic metres of contaminated water per day, a mixture of groundwater, seawater, and water that cools the reactors. It is filtered for “the most radioactive isotopes” and stored in above-ground water tanks, but authorities admit that the level of tritium is above standards. It is almost impossible to remove tritium from water. TEPCO claims it is “only harmful to humans in large doses.” But who’s measuring?

According to TEPCO: “After treatment the levels of most radioactive particles meet the national standard.” However, the statement that most radioactive particles meet the national standard is not reassuring. And furthermore, why should anybody anywhere in the world be permitted to discharge large quantities of contaminated water that’s been filtered for ‘most radioactive particles’ directly from a broken-down nuclear power plant into the ocean under any circumstances?

But storage space is running out and the ocean is readily available as a very convenient garbage dump. Well, yes, but maybe find more storage space… on land… in Japan!

According to a Japanese anti-nuclear campaign group, the contaminated water dumping scheme violates the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution as well as the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Their opposition is endorsed by the National Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Japan. In September 2022, 42,000 people signed a joint petition delivered to TEPCO and Japan’s Ministry of Economy demanding other solutions to the toxic water dumping plans. According to national broadcasting firm NHK, 51% of Japanese respondents oppose the dumping plan. And a survey by Asahi Shimbun claims 55% of the public opposes the dumping.

A Greenpeace East Asia press release d/d April 28, 2021, says; “According to the latest report by the Japanese government, there are 62 radioactive isotopes found in the existing nuclear water tanks in Fukushima, among which concentration of a radionuclide called tritium reached about 860 TBq (terabecquerel) – an alarming level that far exceeds the acceptable norm.”

China’s Xinhua News Agency claims: “TEPCO believes that tritium normally remains in the wastewater at ordinary nuclear power stations, therefore it is safe to discharge tritium-contaminated water. Experts say TEPCO is trying to confuse the concept of the wastewater that meets international standards during normal operation of nuclear power plants with that of the complex nuclear-contaminated water produced after the core meltdowns at the wrecked Fukushima power plant. The actual results of ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) are not as ideal as TEPCO claims. Japanese media have found that in addition to tritium, there are a variety of radioactive substances in the Fukushima nuclear wastewater that exceed the standard. TEPCO has also admitted that about 70 percent of the water treated by ALPS contains radionuclides other than tritium at the concentration which exceeds legally required standards and requires filtration again.”

According to Hiroyuki Uchida, mayor of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, despite strengthened information about the toxic dumping by TEPCO and the government of Japan, the discharge plan has not gained “full understanding of citizens and fishery stakeholders.”

Rhea Moss-Christian, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, aka: the Pacific Tuna Commission said: “It’s a real concern and I just wish they would take a bit of time to think more carefully about this… this is a massive release and a big, big potential disaster if it’s not handled properly… There are a number of outstanding questions that have yet to be fully answered. They have focused a lot on one radionuclide and not very much on others that are also present in the wastewater.”

Greenpeace/Japan on TEPCO dumping: “The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima. The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes. It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts.[2] Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option [3], dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean… Since 2012, Greenpeace has proactively campaigned against plans to discharge Fukushima contaminated water – submitting technical analysis to UN agencies, holding seminars with local residents of Fukushima with other NGOs, and petitioning against the discharges and submitted to relevant Japanese government bodies.” (Source: Greenpeace Press Release, April 13, 2021)

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 22nd, 2022, President David Panuelo of Micronesia stated: “We cannot close our eyes to the unimaginable threats of nuclear contamination, marine pollution, and eventual destruction of the Blue Pacific Continent. The impacts of this decision are both transboundary and intergenerational in nature.”

In April 2021 Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister (serving from 2012-to-2021) Tarō Asō publicly stated that the treated and diluted water “will be safe to drink.” In response to Deputy PM Asō, Chinese Foreign Minister Lijian Zhao replied: “The ocean is not Japan’s trashcan” and furthermore, since Japan claims it’s safe to drink, “then drink it!” (Source: China to Japan: If Treated Radioactive Water from Fukushima is Safe, ‘Please Drink It’ Washington Post, April 15, 2021)

Mr. Zhao may have stumbled upon the best solution to international concerns about TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) dumping contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, TEPCO should remove it from the storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and deliver it to Japan’s water reservoirs. After all, they publicly claimed it’s “safe to drink.” Japan has approximately 100,000 dams of which roughly 3,000 are reservoirs over 15 meters (50’) height. For example, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in Japan is Ogouchi Reservoir, which holds 189 million tons of drinking water for Tokyo.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

Biomass Firms Tell Bright Green Lies

Biomass Firms Tell Bright Green Lies

Editor’s Note: Saplings cannot replace mature forests, with their hundreds of years of biodiversity and carbon sequestration. The biomass industry is destroying mature forests with a promise of planting saplings. Even if it had come from “waste wood,” huge amounts of energy is still involved in cutting, chipping, transporting and manufacturing of biomass pellets. Adding to that is the emissions involved in the actual burning. Biomass manufacturing is not green, clean or renewable. The sooner we stop doing it, the better.


By Justin Catanoso / Mongabay

  • On December 5, 2022, Mongabay featured a story by journalist Justin Catanoso in which the first ever biomass industry insider came forward as a whistleblower and discredited the green sustainability claims made by Enviva — the world’s largest maker of wood pellets for energy.
  • On December 15, citing that article and recent scientific evidence that Enviva contributes to deforestation in the U.S. Southeast, The Netherlands decided it will stop paying subsidies to any biomass company found to be untruthful in its wood pellet production methods. The Netherlands currently offers sizable subsidies to Enviva.
  • Precisely how The Netherlands decision will impact biomass subsidies in the long run is unclear. Nor is it known how this decision may impact the EU’s Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) certification process, which critics say is inherently weak and unreliable.
  • Also in December, Australia became the first major nation to reverse its designation of forest biomass as a renewable energy source, raising questions about how parties to the UN Paris agreement can support opposing renewable energy policies, especially regarding biomass — a problem for COP28 negotiators to resolve in 2023.

Prompted by exclusive reporting from Mongabay, the House of Representatives in The Netherlands’s Parliament has approved a motion that compels its government to stop paying subsidies to wood-pellet manufacturers found to be untruthful in their wood-harvesting practices.

On December 14, the Dutch House, by a 150-114 vote, approved a motion introduced by Rep. Lammert van Raan of Amsterdam, a member of the progressive Party for the Animals. In his motion, van Raan noted that up to €9.5 billion ($10 billion) have been reserved by the government through 2032 to subsidize the purchase of domestic and foreign-produced wood pellets for energy and heat generation.

“The risk of fraud with sustainability certification of biomass is significant,” van Raan wrote. Then, in reference to a Mongabay story published December 5, he added: “A whistleblower who worked at Enviva, the biggest maker of wood pellets, has reported that all of Enviva’s green claims are incorrect [and] according to an important recent scientific study… Enviva contributes to deforestation in the southeastern U.S.”

Van Raan concluded his motion by writing that the House “calls on the government to ensure that all subsidies do not end up at parties that cheat with sustainability certification.”

The approved motion requires the Dutch government to seek a higher level of proof under the third-party Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) certification process. Enviva already participates in the SBP, but critics note that the certification process is inherently weak and unreliable, especially regarding the climate and biodiversity impacts of tree harvesting.

Van Raan’s motion seeks to address such problems as the SBP standards used by the European Union are not seen as adequately holding pellet manufacturers accountable for their harvest practices. NGOs and journalists have shown, for example, that clear cutting of native, biodiverse forests are common industry practices, yet such harvests are still certified as sustainable. The Netherlands’ challenge is to make the SBP process more rigorous and transparent. And if those higher standards aren’t met, pellet makers like Enviva could lose millions in subsidies.

Whistleblower speaks out

The Mongabay story that precipitated the Dutch motion featured the first employee from within the multibillion-dollar global wood pellet manufacturing industry to ever speak out publicly. The whistleblower, a high-ranking Enviva plant official who declined to be named, told Mongabay that Enviva’s claims of using mostly treetops, limbs and wood waste to produce pellets were false, as were other sustainable policy claims.

“We take giant, whole trees. We don’t care where they come from,” said the whistleblower, who no longer works for Enviva. “The notion of sustainably managed forests is nonsense. We can’t get wood into the mills fast enough.”

Mongabay confirmed many of the whistleblower’s allegations in November when this reporter observed firsthand a forest clearcut in eastern North Carolina where nearly half the trees from a 52-acre industrial site were chipped and transported to an Enviva pellet-making plant. Also, a recent study by the Southern Environmental Law Center illustrated how Enviva’s tree harvesting since opening its first plant in 2011 in North Carolina is contributing to net deforestation in coastal North Carolina and southern Virginia.

In response, Enviva told Mongabay it stood by its public assertions regarding the sustainability of its wood-harvesting practices. The company also said it believed the whistleblower was not credible in his allegations.

Global doubts over biomass as a renewable energy source

In April, The Netherlands voted to stop subsidizing wood pellets for about 50 new heat-generating, wood-burning plants. But existing plants (200 for heat, and four for energy that co-fire with wood pellets and coal) still receive subsidies of nearly €600 million annually ($635 million). In 2021, The Netherlands imported 1.2 million metric tons of wood pellets from the southeastern U.S., much of that coming from Enviva.

The move by the Dutch to hold pellet makers accountable for their sustainable harvest claims — a first in the European Union — comes at the same time the biomass industry suffered its first global setback. On December 15, Australia amended its renewable energy policy to exclude woody biomass from native forests as a renewable energy source. That decision essentially blocks the biomass industry, which has no presence in Australia, from getting started there.

More trouble may lie ahead for Enviva. A Seattle-based law firm, Hagens Berman, is seeking plaintiffs in a possible class-action lawsuit against the Maryland-based public company.

The law firm is recruiting Enviva investors who believe they have been harmed financially by what the attorneys call greenwashing — appealing to investors because of Enviva’s ESG (Environment Social Governance) credentials, when in fact the company is allegedly harming the environment and contributing to climate change.

Enviva denies these allegations as well. Hagens Berman has set a January 3, 2023 deadline for plaintiffs to come forward.

The growing unease of governments toward biomass as a subsidized renewable energy source comes after years of pressure from scientists and forest advocates who have presented evidence and argued that burning forests to make energy is dirtier than coal, while also harming ecosystems and reducing forest carbon storage capacity — even as the climate and biodiversity crises intensify.

Mongabay has reported on biomass since 2014 with more than 60 articles, while other media outlets have increasingly brought attention to the topic.

Activists have pressed hard for years to put a biomass discussion on the agenda at annual UN climate summits, to no avail, but are encouraged by events in The Netherlands and Australia. They say they remain hopeful that actions by policymakers will soon match growing public opposition to using forest wood for energy in a climate crisis.

Justin Catanoso is a regular contributor to Mongabay and a professor of journalism at Wake Forest University in the United States.


Featured image Ameresco Biomass Cogeneration Facility at SRS by Savannah River Site is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Corporate Capture of Global Biodiversity Efforts of UN Summit

Corporate Capture of Global Biodiversity Efforts of UN Summit

Editor’s Note: The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) was held from the 7th to 19th of December, 2022 in Montreal, Canada. This article was published shortly before that. It highlights how the COP has been hijacked by corporate interests. Corporate capture of environmental movement is not new. For a long time now, corporations have been trying to push their agenda in the form of greenwashing. Unless we reject these tactics and any form of corporate influence over these conferences, there is little benefits that they could bring to the natural world.


By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams

“Their ‘solutions’ are carefully crafted in order to not undermine their business models; ultimately they do nothing for the environment,” said one Friends of the Earth campaigner.

With the next United Nations Biodiversity Conference set to kick off in Canada this week, a report out Monday details how corporate interests have attempted to influence efforts to protect the variety of life on Earth amid rampant species loss.

“Addressing corporate capture of the CBD is a precondition for saving biodiversity.”

After a long-delayed and mostly virtual meeting in Kunming, China last year to work on a post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF), nearly 20,000 delegates are headed to Montreal for the second part of COP15, which will bring together countries party to a multilateral treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) report, titled The Nature of Business: Corporate Influence Over the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Biodiversity Framework, “explores how business interests have tried to shape the recent course of the work” of the 30-year-old treaty and, “in many cases, have succeeded in doing so.”

While the publication focuses specifically on the development of the new framework — widely regarded as a Paris climate agreement for nature — the group’s analysis notes that “the context is the broader and longer span of business influence over the CBD, especially since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the CBD was open for signature.”

“To achieve their desired results,” the report explains, “corporations have used a variety of tactics and strategies to influence the CBD processes, including the following: direct party lobbying; targeting individual delegations or becoming part of them; installing direct contacts in the CBD Secretariat; making use of revolving doors; co-opting civil society, academia, and think tanks; funding U.N. activities; the distortion of language and concepts; and public-private partnerships.”

Pointing to such activities, Nele Marien, FOEI’s Forests and Biodiversity program coordinator, declared Monday that “corporate influence goes deep into the heart of the CBD.”

Taking aim at fossil fuel and mining giants, she said that “one strategy in particular stands out: The formation of purpose-built lobby coalitions allowing many corporations, such as BP or Vale, to present themselves as part of the solution and advocates for sustainability with green-sounding names. However, their ‘solutions’ are carefully crafted in order to not undermine their business models; ultimately they do nothing for the environment.”

The report points to offsetting, self-certification, self-regulation, and “nature-based solutions” as examples of measures that give the impression of action without any impactful changes.

 

“There is a fundamental conflict of interest,” Marien stressed. “Corporations are the most prominent contributors to biodiversity loss, ecosystem destruction, and human rights violations. Addressing corporate capture of the CBD is a precondition for saving biodiversity. The U.N. and its member states must resist corporate pressure and the CBD must reclaim its authority to regulate business.”

Fellow FOEI program coordinator Isaac Rojas argued that “putting corporations in their place would allow peoples-led solutions to biodiversity loss to regain momentum.”

“Indigenous peoples and local communities protect 80% of existing biodiversity, often by defending it with their lives,” he said. “Conserving biodiversity goes along with taking IPLCs and their human and land tenure rights seriously.”

However, the current draft framework has critics concerned, with FOEI warning that it “increasingly bears the strong hallmarks of lobbying by business interests.”

“Businesses in many countries are ‘pushing at doors’ that are already permanently open to them.”

The report also highlights that “it is difficult to disentangle what has resulted specifically from corporate lobbying from what certain parties might have desired anyway, given their strong disposition towards ‘nonregulation,’ voluntary action, market mechanisms, private sector implementation, and weak or nonexistent monitoring, reporting, and corporate accountability.”

“Businesses in many countries are ‘pushing at doors’ that are already permanently open to them,” the document continues. “The picture is further obscured by the collaboration of most of the major corporate lobbying groups with certain international conservation organizations. The lobbying of these groups has converged and merged around many issues.”

“But the consequences are clear: The GBF lacks the ‘transformational’ measures required by the biodiversity crisis,” the report adds. “The chance for a global agreement that is able to address the underlying drivers of biodiversity, transform economic sectors, initiate measures to reduce consumption, and hold corporations to account, seems to be lost.”

Given FOEI’s findings and fears, the group offers reforms for the entire U.N. system and the CBD.

Recommendations for the broader system include resisting pressure to give corporate interests a privileged position in negotiations, excluding business representatives from national delegations, increasing transparency around lobbying and existing links to the private sector, ending all partnerships with corporations and trade associations, establishing a code of conduct for U.N. officials, and monitoring the impact of companies on people and the planet.

As for the biodiversity convention, the report asserts that “rightsholders should have a voice regarding policies that affect the territories and ecosystems they live in,” and “corporations should not be part of decision-making processes and should not have a vote.”

The biodiversity conference this week comes on the heels of the COP27 climate summit that wrapped up in Egypt last month — which critics called “another terrible failure” given that the final agreement did not include language about phasing out all fossil fuels, which scientists say is necessary to prevent the worst impacts of rising temperatures.

 

One of the public demands going into COP15 comes from over 650 scientists who, in a new letter to world leaders, push for an end to burning trees for energy.

“Ensuring energy security is a major societal challenge, but the answer is not to burn our precious forests. Calling this ‘green energy’ is misleading and risks accelerating the global biodiversity crisis,” Alexandre Antonelli, a lead author of the letter and director of science at the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told The Guardian Monday.

Combating industry claims about the practice, the letter concludes that “if the global community endeavors to protect 30% of land and seas for nature by 2030, it must also commit to ending reliance on biomass energy. The best thing for the climate and biodiversity is to leave forests standing — and biomass energy does the opposite.”

The 30×30 target referenced in the letter is a top priority for several countries going into the Chinese-hosted conference, as Carbon Brief noted last week, introducing an online tool tracking who wants what at the event.

“But China has not invited world leaders to Montreal, sparking fears that the political momentum needed to produce an ambitious outcome will be lacking at the summit,” the outlet reported. “Slow progress on the GBF at preparatory talks in Geneva and Nairobi has also raised concerns among observers, scientists, and politicians.”


Featured Image Big Corporate Discovers the Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia“by David Blackwell. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Thacker Pass Sacred Sites Are Already Being Damaged

Thacker Pass Sacred Sites Are Already Being Damaged

Tribal Chairman: “It’s Our Responsibility to Protect Sacred Sites”

RENO, NV — The Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in northern Nevada is headed back to Federal Court on January 5th as the lawsuits against the project near completion, but project opponents are raising the alarm that Lithium Nevada Corporation has already begun work on the proposed mine.

Lithium Nevada’s workers at Thacker Pass have begun digging test pits, bore holes, dumping gravel, building fencing, and installing security cameras where Native Americans often conduct ceremonies. Lithium Nevada also conducted “bulk sampling” earlier this year, and may be planning to dig dozens of new test pits across Thacker Pass. They’re claiming this work is legal under previous permits issued over a decade ago. But Tribes and mine opponents, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, disagree.

They point to language in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine that says “authorization of [the mine] will terminate the [earlier permits].” The Federal permit for Thacker Pass was approved on January 15th, 2021.

Will Falk, attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, explains: “Lithium Nevada told the government and the American public that it would terminate the older permits upon BLM’s approval of the Thacker Pass Project. Now they are going back on their word, it appears they are lying to get a headstart on building the Thacker Pass mine, and the BLM is allowing them to get away with it.”

Thacker Pass, known as Peehee Mu’huh in Paiute, is a sacred site to regional tribes whose ancestors lived in the area for thousands of years, and were massacred there on at least two occasions.

Michon Eben, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, says the site is incredibly important to Native American history. “Peehee Mu’huh is a sacred place where our ancestors lived and died. We still go there to pray, gather food and medicine, hunt, and teach our youth about the history of our people.” Eben and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony are currently hosting an exhibit on the impacts of mining on Native people of Nevada.

Tribal members have stated in court filings that, because of the history of battles and massacres on the site, Thacker Pass is as significant to their culture as a site like Pearl Harbor is to American history. Arlan Melendez, Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, understands the importance of battle and massacre sites as both a Native American and as a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

“As tribal leaders, it’s our responsibility to protect and honor our sacred places,” says Melendez. “Throughout US history, tribes have always been set up to lose in the US legal system against BLM. This Lithium Mine stands in the way of our roots and it’s violating the religious freedoms of our elders, our people.”

Falk, the Tribal attorney, says that Lithium Nevada’s construction activities at Thacker Pass are also violating tribal consultation rights.

“The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe are still engaged in consultation with the BLM about the September 12, 1865 massacre site, a site that will be completely destroyed by Lithium Nevada’s mine if this project is built,” Falk says. “It’s hard to believe a government agency is consulting in good faith when they are already allowing the site to be harmed.”

Shelley Harjo, a tribal member from the Fort McDermitt Shoshone Paiute Tribe and an employee of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, has called the planned destruction of Thacker Pass “the biggest desecration and rape of a known Native American massacre site in our area.”

The upcoming January 5th hearing in Reno’s Federal Courthouse will be the final oral argument in the ongoing lawsuits against the Thacker Pass mine. Mine opponents are planning a march and rally outside. Plaintiffs, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, four environmental organizations, and local rancher Edward Bartell, have alleged numerous violations of the law, and Judge Miranda Du is expected to issue her opinion in the case within days or weeks of the January 5th hearing.

“No matter what happens in court on January 5th, Thacker Pass is being destroyed right now and that threat will be ongoing,” says Max Wilbert, co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass. “We have to stop that.”

Lithium Nevada claims that its lithium mine will be essential to producing batteries for combating global warming, and the Biden administration has previously indicated some support for Thacker Pass. Opponents of the project have called this “greenwashing,” arguing that the project would harm important wildlife habitat and create significant pollution. They say that electric cars are still harmful to the planet.

Timeline

January 15, 2021 — Due to “fast-tracked” permitting under the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management releases a Record of Decision approving the Thacker Pass mine less than a year after beginning the Environmental Impact Statement process. On the same day, Max Wilbert and Will Falk established the Protect Thacker Pass camp.

February 11, 2021 — Local rancher Edward Bartell files a lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court alleging the proposed mine violates the Endangered Species Act by harming Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and would cause irreparable harm to springs, wet meadows, and water tables.

February 26, 2021 — Four environmental organizations (Basin and Range Watch, Great Basin Resource Watch, Wildlands Defense, and Western Watersheds Project) file another lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00103-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court, alleging that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy Management Act, and other laws in permitting the Thacker Pass mine.

June 24, 2021 — The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, calls on the Department of the Interior to rescind the permits for the Thacker Pass project.

Spring and Summer 2021 — Rallies, protests, and prayer runs take place in Orovada, Winnemucca, Reno, Carson City, and at Thacker Pass. More than 100 mine opponents gather at Thacker Pass to commemorate the 156-year anniversary of a September 12, 1865 massacre of at least 31 Northern Paiute men, women, and children committed by the 1st Nevada Cavalry. Thousands of people visit the site.

July 19, 2021 — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) files a successful motion to intervene in Federal District Court (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB) alleging that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in permitting the planned lithium mine.

August 2, 2021 — Burns Paiute Tribe files a motion to intervene on the side of tribal plaintiffs (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB).

September 15, 2021 — Bureau of Land Management accuses Will Falk and Max Wilbert of trespass for providing bathrooms to native elders at Thacker Pass, fining them $49,890.13.

October 8, 2021 — Eighteen native elders from three regional tribes request a BLM permit for their ceremonial camp. The BLM does not respond.

November 29, 2021 — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony files an amended complaint in federal court alleging major previously unknown violations of the law. In January, Judge Miranda Du rejects the amended complaint because she wants to make a final decision on the case within a few months (note that the case has now continued for another calendar year).

February 11th, 2022 — Winnemucca Indian Colony files a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of plaintiffs, claiming that BLM’s contention that they consulted with the Tribe is completely false. Judge Du rejects this motion shortly afterwards with the same reasoning used above.

April 4th, 2022 — Reno-Sparks Indian Colony files a Motion for Discovery Sanctions alleging that the BLM has been disobeying court orders and making “reckless, false statements” in a deliberate attempt to abuse the justice system and limit judicial oversight. Judge Du agrees with RSIC, but rejects the motion on a technicality.

August 2022 — BLM “discovers” five new historic sites at Thacker Pass and for the first time acknowledges the September 12, 1865 massacre took place, but continues to reject tribal expertise.

September 2022 — Lithium Nevada Corporation begins digging up portions of Thacker Pass for “bulk sampling” despite consultation still being ongoing between the Bureau of Land Management and regional tribes over cultural sites.

October 2022 — Dozens of mining activists from four continents visit Thacker Pass as part of the Western Mining Action Network biennial conference.

Contact:
Will Falk, Attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe
Bethany Sam, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Media Relations
Max Wilbert, Protect Thacker Pass

Renewable Energy Isn’t Replacing Fossil Fuel Energy

Renewable Energy Isn’t Replacing Fossil Fuel Energy

Editor’s note: It is true that wind and heat from the sun are renewable but the devices used to capture that energy are not. Creating such devices only adds on to a non-existing carbon budget. Richard Heinberg, the author of the following article, is an advocate for “renewable” energy as a part of the “transition” to a post carbon civilization. However, the following article demonstrates that the so-called transition is not happening in real life. In reality, civilization and a “post-carbon” future is an oxymoron. Civilization cannot survive in a post-carbon future. It is highly unlikely that humanity will willingly transition out of civilization, so it must be brought down “by any means possible”. The best way to accomplish that is through organizing. The sooner it is brought down, the better for the planet.

For more on the impracticality of renewables, read Bright Green Lies.


By Richard Heinberg / CounterPunch

Despite all the renewable energy investments and installations, actual global greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. That’s largely due to economic growth: While renewable energy supplies have expanded in recent years, world energy usage has ballooned even more—with the difference being supplied by fossil fuels. The more the world economy grows, the harder it is for additions of renewable energy to turn the tide by actually replacing energy from fossil fuels, rather than just adding to it.

The notion of voluntarily reining in economic growth in order to minimize climate change and make it easier to replace fossil fuels is political anathema not just in the rich countries, whose people have gotten used to consuming at extraordinarily high rates, but even more so in poorer countries, which have been promised the opportunity to “develop.”

After all, it is the rich countries that have been responsible for the great majority of past emissions (which are driving climate change presently); indeed, these countries got rich largely by the industrial activity of which carbon emissions were a byproduct. Now it is the world’s poorest nations that are experiencing the brunt of the impacts of climate change caused by the world’s richest. It’s neither sustainable nor just to perpetuate the exploitation of land, resources, and labor in the less industrialized countries, as well as historically exploited communities in the rich countries, to maintain both the lifestyles and expectations of further growth of the wealthy minority.

From the perspective of people in less-industrialized nations, it’s natural to want to consume more, which only seems fair. But that translates to more global economic growth, and a harder time replacing fossil fuels with renewables globally. China is the exemplar of this conundrum: Over the past three decades, the world’s most populous nation lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, but in the process became the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal.

The Materials Dilemma

Also posing an enormous difficulty for a societal switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is our increasing need for minerals and metals. The World Bank, the IEA, the IMF, and McKinsey and Company have all issued reports in the last couple of years warning of this growing problem. Vast quantities of minerals and metals will be required not just for making solar panels and wind turbines, but also for batteries, electric vehicles, and new industrial equipment that runs on electricity rather than carbon-based fuels.

Some of these materials are already showing signs of increasing scarcity: According to the World Economic Forum, the average cost of producing copper has risen by over 300 percent in recent years, while copper ore grade has dropped by 30 percent.

Optimistic assessments of the materials challenge suggest there are enough global reserves for a one-time build-out of all the new devices and infrastructure needed (assuming some substitutions, with, for example, lithium for batteries eventually being replaced by more abundant elements like iron). But what is society to do as that first generation of devices and infrastructure ages and requires replacement?

Circular Economy: A Mirage?

Hence the rather sudden and widespread interest in the creation of a circular economy in which everything is recycled endlessly. Unfortunately, as economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen discovered in his pioneering work on entropy, recycling is always incomplete and always costs energy. Materials typically degrade during each cycle of use, and some material is wasted in the recycling process.

A French preliminary analysis of the energy transition that assumed maximum possible recycling found that a materials supply crisis could be delayed by up to three centuries. But will the circular economy (itself an enormous undertaking and a distant goal) arrive in time to buy industrial civilization those extra 300 years? Or will we run out of critical materials in just the next few decades in our frantic effort to build as many renewable energy devices as we can in as short a time as possible?

The latter outcome seems more likely if pessimistic resource estimates turn out to be accurate. Simon Michaux of the Finnish Geological Survey finds that “[g]lobal reserves are not large enough to supply enough metals to build the renewable non-fossil fuels industrial system … Mineral deposit discovery has been declining for many metals. The grade of processed ore for many of the industrial metals has been decreasing over time, resulting in declining mineral processing yield. This has the implication of the increase in mining energy consumption per unit of metal.”

Steel prices are already trending higher, and lithium supplies may prove to be a bottleneck to rapidly increasing battery production. Even sand is getting scarce: Only certain grades of the stuff are useful in making concrete (which anchors wind turbines) or silicon (which is essential for solar panels). More sand is consumed yearly than any other material besides water, and some climate scientists have identified it as a key sustainability challenge this century. Predictably, as deposits are depleted, sand is becoming more of a geopolitical flashpoint, with China recently embargoing sand shipments to Taiwan with the intention of crippling Taiwan’s ability to manufacture semiconductor devices such as cell phones.

To Reduce Risk, Reduce Scale

During the fossil fuel era, the global economy depended on ever-increasing rates of extracting and burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The renewables era (if it indeed comes into being) will be founded upon the large-scale extraction of minerals and metals for panels, turbines, batteries, and other infrastructure, which will require periodic replacement.

These two economic eras imply different risks: The fossil fuel regime risked depletion and pollution (notably atmospheric carbon pollution leading to climate change); the renewables regime will likewise risk depletion (from mining minerals and metals) and pollution (from dumping old panels, turbines, and batteries, and from various manufacturing processes), but with diminished vulnerability to climate change. The only way to lessen risk altogether would be to reduce substantially society’s scale of energy and materials usage—but very few policymakers or climate advocacy organizations are exploring that possibility.

Climate Change Hobbles Efforts to Combat Climate Change

As daunting as they are, the financial, political, and material challenges to the energy transition don’t exhaust the list of potential barriers. Climate change itself is also hampering the energy transition—which, of course, is being undertaken to avert climate change.

During the summer of 2022, China experienced its most intense heat wave in six decades. It impacted a wide region, from central Sichuan Province to coastal Jiangsu, with temperatures often topping 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and reaching a record 113 degrees in Chongqing on August 18. At the same time, a drought-induced power crisis forced Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., the world’s top battery maker, to close manufacturing plants in China’s Sichuan province. Supplies of crucial parts to Tesla and Toyota were temporarily cut off.

Meanwhile, a similarly grim story unfolded in Germany, as a record drought reduced the water flow in the Rhine River to levels that crippled European trade, halting shipments of diesel and coal, and threatening the operations of both hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.

A study published in February 2022 in the journal Water found that droughts (which are becoming more frequent and severe with climate change) could create challenges for U.S. hydropower in Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, French nuclear plants that rely on the Rhône River for cooling water have had to shut down repeatedly. If reactors expel water downstream that’s too hot, aquatic life is wiped out as a result. So, during the sweltering 2022 summer, Électricité de France (EDF) powered down reactors not only along the Rhône but also on a second major river in the south, the Garonne. Altogether, France’s nuclear power output has been cut by nearly 50 percent during the summer of 2022. Similar drought- and heat-related shutdowns happened in 2018 and 2019.

Heavy rain and flooding can also pose risks for both hydro and nuclear power—which together currently provide roughly four times as much low-carbon electricity globally as wind and solar combined. In March 2019, severe flooding in southern and western Africa, following Cyclone Idai, damaged two major hydro plants in Malawi, cutting off power to parts of the country for several days.

Wind turbines and solar panels also rely on the weather and are therefore also vulnerable to extremes. Cold, cloudy days with virtually no wind spell trouble for regions heavily reliant on renewable energy. Freak storms can damage solar panels, and high temperatures reduce panels’ efficiency. Hurricanes and storm surges can cripple offshore wind farms.

The transition from fossil fuel to renewables faces an uphill battle. Still, this switch is an essential stopgap strategy to keep electricity grids up and running, at least on a minimal scale, as civilization inevitably turns away from a depleting store of oil and gas. The world has become so dependent on grid power for communications, finance, and the preservation of technical, scientific, and cultural knowledge that, if the grids were to go down permanently and soon, it is likely that billions of people would die, and the survivors would be culturally destitute. In essence, we need renewables for a controlled soft landing. But the harsh reality is that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the energy transition is not going well and has poor overall prospects.

We need a realistic plan for energy descent, instead of foolish dreams of eternal consumer abundance by means other than fossil fuels. Currently, politically rooted insistence on continued economic growth is discouraging truth-telling and serious planning for how to live well with less.


Richard Heinberg is Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, and is regarded as one of the world’s foremost advocates for a shift away from our current reliance on fossil fuels. He is the author of fourteen books, including some of the seminal works on society’s current energy and environmental sustainability crisis.

Featured image by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Social Movements in Defense of Our Territories Are Our Hope

Social Movements in Defense of Our Territories Are Our Hope

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.