Editor’s Note: We bring to you a combination of two posts. The first is about a mass arrest of activists during climate protests on September 18. The protests were part of a global coordinated climate action. The second is about the new permits issued in the US for offshore oil drilling. For a president who ran his election on not allowing any more drillings, the move is a shift from his electoral promises. Though reflecting a lack of integrity, it still does not come as a surprise. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have shown, time and again, to favor corporations over nature, people, justice and freedom. This crackdown on protestors and permission for new drilling projects are just a reflection of that. As much as we oppose fossil fuels and oil drilling, DGR does not believe a renewable transition to be a solution to it. And calling a climate emergency to pursue that purpose would be folly.
114 Climate Defenders Arrested While Blocking Entry to NY Federal Reserve
A day after tens of thousands of climate activists marched through Manhattan’s Upper East Side demanding an end to oil, gas, and coal production, thousands more demonstrators hit the streets of Lower Manhattan Monday, where more than 100 people were arrested while surrounding the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to protest fossil fuel financing.
Protesters chanted slogans like “No oil, no gas, fossil fuels can kiss my ass” and “We need clean air, not another billionaire” as they marched from Zuccotti Park—ground zero of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement—to pre-selected sites in the Financial District. Witnesses said many of the activists attempted to reach the New York Stock Exchange but were blocked by police.
“We’re here to wake up the regulators who are asleep at the wheel as they continue to let Wall Street lead us into ANOTHER financial crash with their fossil fuel financing,” the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition explained on social media.
Protests against 300-mile-long oil pipeline through the Appalachians
Local and national media reported New York Police Department (NYPD) officers arrested 114 protesters and charged them with civil disobedience Monday after they blocked entrances to the Fed building. Most of those arrested were expected to be booked and released.
“I’m being arrested for exercising my First Amendment right to protest because Joe Manchin is putting a 300-mile-long pipeline through my home state of West Virginia and President [Joe] Biden allowed him to do it for nothing in return,” explained Climate Defiance organizer Rylee Haught on social media, referring to the right-wing Democratic senator and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
As she was led away by an NYPD officer, a tearful Haught said Biden “sold us out.”
“He promised to end drilling on federal lands, and he’s selling out Appalachia’s future for profit,” she added.
The demand is: declare a climate emergency
Responding to the “block-long” line of arrestees, Climate Defiance asked: “Why are we getting handcuffed while people who literally torch the planet get celebrated for their ‘civility’ and their ‘moderation’?”
Alicé Nascimento of New York Communities for Change told WABC that the protests—which are part of Climate Week and are timed to coincide with this week’s United Nations Climate Ambition Summit—are “our last resort.”
“We’re bringing the crisis to their doorstep and this is what it looks like,” said Nascimento.
As they have at similar demonstrations, protesters called on Biden to stop approving new fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency. Some had a message for the president and his administration.
“We hold the power of the people, the power you need to win this election,” 17-year-old Brooklynite Emma Buretta of the youth-led protest group Fridays for Future told WABC. “If you want to win in 2024, if you do not want the blood of my generation to be on your hands, end fossil fuels.”
‘Gross Denial of Reality’: Biden Infuriates With Approval of More Offshore Drilling
Rejecting the corporate media’s narrative that U.S. President Joe Biden’s newly-released offshore drilling plan includes the “fewest-ever” drilling leases, dozens of climate action and marine conservation groups on Friday said the president had “missed an easy opportunity to do the right thing” and follow through on his campaign promise to end all lease sales for oil and gas extraction in the nation’s waters.
The U.S. Interior Department announced Friday its five-year plan for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, including three new areas in the Gulf of Mexico where fossil fuel companies will be permitted to drill.
Government won’t reach it’s climate goals whith new drilling leases
The industries have already bought 9,000 drilling leases – to which the new leases will be added. This is “incompatible with reaching President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions by 50-52% by 2030,” said the Protect All Our Coasts Coalition, citing the findings of Biden’s own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Office of Atmospheric Protection earlier this year.
Texan citizens suffer under pollution in the Gulf region
While the final plan scales back from the eleven sales that were originally proposed, said the coalition, “the plan is a step backwards from the climate goals the administration has set and for environmental justice communities across the Gulf South, who are already experiencing the disproportionate impact of fossil fuel extraction across the region.”
The coalition includes the Port Arthur Community Action Network, which has called attention to the risks posed to public health in the Gulf region by continued fossil fuel extraction.
“Folks in Port Arthur, Texas die daily from cancer, respiratory, heart, and kidney disease from the very pollution that would come from more leases and drilling,” said John Beard, the founder, president, and executive director of the group. “If Biden is to truly be the environmental president, he should stop any further leasing and all forms of the petrochemical build-out, call for a climate emergency, and jumpstart the transition to clean green, renewable energy, and lift the toxic pollution from overburdened communities.”
Our fossil fuel-lifestyle incompatible with the survival of the earth
Kendall Dix, national policy director of Taproot Earth, dismissed political think tanks that applauded the “historically few lease sales” on Friday.
“The earth does not recognize political ‘victories,'” said Dix, pointing to an intrusion of saltwater in South Louisiana’s drinking water in recent weeks, which has been exacerbated by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
“As the head of the United Nations [António Guterres] has said, continued fossils fuel development is incompatible with human survival,” he added. “We need to transition to justly sourced renewable energy that’s democratically managed and accountable to frontline communities as quickly as possible.”
Biden’s drilling plans break his campaign promises
Along with groups in the Gulf region, national organizations on Friday condemned a plan that they said blatantly ignores the repeated warnings of international energy experts and the world’s top climate scientists who say no new fossil fuel expansion is compatible with a pathway to limiting planetary heating to 1.5°C.
“Sacrificing millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction when scientists are clear that we must end fossil fuel expansion immediately is a gross denial of reality by Joe Biden in the face of climate catastrophe,” said Collin Rees, United States program manager at Oil Change International. “Doubling down on oil drilling is a direct violation of President Biden’s prior commitments and continues a concerning trend.”
Rees noted that 75,000 people marched in New York City last week to demand that Biden declare a climate emergency and end support for any new fossil fuel extraction projects.
Protesters fear the destruction of land based communities and wildlife
“End Fossil Fuels is pretty clear,” said Rees, referring to campaigners’ rallying cry. “Not ‘hold slightly fewer lease sales,’ not ‘talk about climate action’—End. Fossil. Fuels.”
Despite Biden’s campaign promises, Rees noted, the U.S. is currently “on track to expand fossil fuel production more than any other country by 2050.”
“I feel disgusted and incredibly let down by Biden’s offshore oil drilling plan. It piles more harm on already-struggling ecosystems, endangered species and the global climate,” said Brady Bradshaw, senior oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, another member of the Protect All Our Coasts Coalition. “We need Biden to commit to a fossil fuel phaseout, but actions like this condemn us to oil spills, climate disasters, and decades of toxic harm to communities and wildlife.”
The lease sales, said Sarah Winter Whelan of the Healthy Ocean Coalition, also represent a missed opportunity by the administration to treat the world’s oceans “as a climate solution, not a source for further climate disaster.”
Under the Inflation Reduction Act, negotiated by the White House last year, the government is required to offer at least 60 million acres of offshore gas and oil drilling leases before developing new wind power projects of similar scope.
“A single new lease sale for offshore oil and gas exploration is one too many,” said Whelan. “Communities around the country are already dealing with exacerbating impacts from climate disruption caused by our reliance on fossil fuels. Any increase in our dependence on fossil fuels just bakes in greater impacts to humanity.”
Gulf communities, added Beard, “refuse to be sacrificed” for fossil fuel profits.
The following is a press release by Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) about a protest action against seabed quarrying in Manila Bay. DGR Asia Pacific is also a collaborator of the protest.
Alyansa Tigil Mina together with Deep Green Resistance and Local Autonomous Network trooped to the Senate during the joint hearing on seabed quarrying today for a peaceful protest action dubbed “Food Not Quarry” as they asked the Senate to urge President Bongbong Marcos, Jr. to issue an Executive Order suspending all Manila Bay reclamation projects.
ATM submitted its Position Paper on Seabed Quarrying during the joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change and the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement.
“ATM respectfully calls on the distinguished members of the Philippine Senate to urge President Marcos Jr. to issue an executive order formalizing his August 9 announcement that reclamation projects in Manila Bay are suspended,” said the group in their position paper.
“Despite President Marcos’ announcement suspending the Manila Bay reclamation projects, we still observe an increase in sand mining, river dredging and seabed quarrying in Cagayan, Zambales, Bataan, and Cavite. These activities appear to provide filling materials for Manila Bay reclamation projects,” said Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator.
ATM’s position paper further notes that interviews with Cavite fishing communities revealed: the absence or lack of consultations before seabed quarrying activities were permitted; frequent incidents of dredging ships damaging fishing nets; and, sharp decline in fish catch since the dredging started.
The group called for the inclusion of people’s organizations, coastal communities, and civil society groups in the on-going cumulative assessment by the DENR.
“We also call on the Senate to hold accountable concerned government officials and private actors for the environmental damage and human rights violations caused by the seabed quarrying projects,” Garganera said.
“We likewise demand the rehabilitation of marine resources and compensation of coastal families whose rights and livelihood were adversely affected.”
Outside the Senate building, the protestors demanded the “eventual halt or cancellation of seabed quarrying projects that destroy fishing grounds and municipal waters, and bring about hunger and poverty to nearby communities.”
“Our direct action aims to surface the discontent surrounding seabed quarrying in San Nicholas Shoal Cavite as well as other areas.
We would also like to bring attention to the need for sustainable projects that ensure food security, especially in the midst of the climate crisis,” said Garganera.
Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano resurfaced
Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano (two activists abducted on September 2) have resurfaced. There are two versions of what happened to them.
In the official version (published September 16), the governmental law enforcement agencies claim that the two women were not abducted but left on their free will. They also claimed that they wanted to leave the group against Manila Bay Reclamation Project but were afraid to do so. As a result they fled from their homes and surrendered to the military. This news story highlights the official statement of the story.
The military presented the two women in a press conference on September 20. The aim of the press conference was to “debunk the abduction propaganda.” The two women were supposed to support the official version of the event. However, when Castro took the floor, she boldly claimed that she was abducted and forced to sign affidavit in military camps. Tamano supported Castro’s claim, after which the press conference was halted abruptly. Thankfully, the women were released hours after the conference in the presence of their families and human rights activists. A report of the press conference can be found here.
As a movement becomes more effective, the repression against it becomes stronger. The powerful will do anything in their power to destroy the movement. DGR commends the bravery of Castro and Tamano, for maintaining their courage and commitment to the natural world despite the hardships.
DGR is now selling a campaign shirt to support the operation cost of our ongoing campaign in the Philippines. We strongly opposed the Seabed Quarrying in San Nicolas Shoal in Cavite and Manila Bay Reclamation Projects which cause a wide ecological marine destruction and kill the livelihood of thousands of small fisherfolks around Manila Bay.
For every shirt that you purchase, DGR Asia Pacific will get P200 pesos that we will use in our activity and actions about Seabed Quarrying and Reclamations.
Editor’s Note; It is important to understand the difference between a reform and a revolution in any political movement. A reform aims to tweak some aspects of the system to make it more equitable, fair and just. A revolution, on the other hand, changes the overall structure of the system. DGR, as a radical environmental and a radical feminist organization, believes that reforms are not enough in a system that is inherently rooted in oppression and injustice. We believe that a revolution is necessary to remove that deep rooted structural violence. However, we also understand that a revolution requires political organizing at a much larger scale. While we are working on building that political movement, the natural world is being destroyed. Till then, something needs to be done to protect the pieces of natural world that we have left, no matter how small. That is where reforms contribute. We understand the perseverance and diligence it takes to bring about any reform and appreciate those who are working on it. Below is the story of such a movement. Though originally designed to be much more protective of nature and indigenous people, the mining laws in Mexico were modified to be much less than that by the time they were passed. The US is still ruled by the Mining Law of 1872.
Reforms to Mexico’s mining law limit harmful practices by extractive industries and improve protections for the environment and Indigenous peoples. But they’re also a far cry from the change activists had been hoping for.
Under the new reform, Indigenous communities will receive 5% of a mining operation’s profits. The maximum lifespan of mining concessions is also reduced from 100 years to 80.
Concessions will no longer be granted in areas with water shortages or in protected areas. Currently, there are 1,671 mining concessions in 70 protected areas in Mexico, spreading across 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of preserved land.
MEXICO CITY — A major reform approved by congress last week is supposed to limit harmful practices by the mining industry and improve protections for the environment and Indigenous peoples. But some parts of the reform faced strong resistance from pro-business interests, resulting in a watered-down version that some environmentalists said doesn’t go far enough.
The reform, originally introduced by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the end of March, was designed to make it harder for private companies to obtain mining concessions without accounting for impacts on surrounding ecosystems and local communities.
It establishes free and prior consent as a requirement for mining concessions, meaning that companies must meet with residents to discuss the impacts of their projects before receiving permits. It also requires companies to restore the land once a mine closes.
But some of the most impactful components of the proposal were negotiated down. Payment to Indigenous communities living near mining operations was originally supposed to be 10% of mining profits but lawmakers reduced it to 5%.
There was also debate about the length of mining concessions, which the previous version of the law set at up to 100 years. Although the original reform proposal wanted to limit it to just 30 years, effectively preventing the companies from shaping entire regions for the long term, lawmakers ultimately settled on 80 years.
“These topics were suppressed or modified without justification and under pressure from the business interests that are responsible for social and environmental devastation,” Colectiva Cambiémosla Ya and Alliance for Free Determination and Autonomy, two mining activist groups, said in a statement ahead of the senate vote.
Deputy Ignacio Mier Velazco, from the state of Puebla — who explained that the reforms were changed to avoid risking investment and economic development — said he was confident the version that was passed would still improve oversight of the industry. Many activists in the region agreed, telling Mongabay the reforms were a victory that allowed for some positive change and a way forward for the continued fight against mining.
Mexico’s mining industry has experienced rapid growth since 1992, when the original mining law was passed. The country has become a top exporter of silver, zinc and other important minerals. In the 1980s, less than 1% of Mexican territory was under a mining concession. Now, it’s a little more than 8%, according to the president’s reform proposal.
Editor’s note: The FPIC (Free, prior and informed consent) and UNDRIP (UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are international standards, that some companies have adopted into their policies. The FPIC is an international human rights principle that protect peoples’ rights to self-determination. UNDRIP delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Both of these are important principles that improve the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. However, neither of these are legally binding, which has disastrous outcomes.
Companies and countries alike are bypassing these principles in favor of profitable ventures, most recent of which are clean energy projects.
Right now, companies that advance the “clean” energy transition are threatening the land and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and peasants. Demand for minerals like copper and lithium is skyrocketing, as every economic sector is being transitioned towards the fourth industrial revolution. But indigenous peoples need to have their right to a say in decisions affecting to their land. Ecosystems and people living with the land are being victimized to serve an economy that is desperately trying to save itself from collapsing.
When Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, spoke at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, last week, he listed clean energy projects as some of the most concerning threats to their rights.
“I constantly receive information that Indigenous Peoples fear a new wave of green investments without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge,” said Calí Tzay.
His statements — and those made by other delegates — at what is the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples, made clear that without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people, these “green” projects have the capacity to seriously impede on Indigenous rights.
Free, prior and informed consent — known as FPIC — has always been an important topic at the UNPFII, but this year it’s taken on a renewed urgency.
Mining projects and carbon offsets put pressure on indigenous groups
“The strong push is because more and more of climate action and targets for sustainable development are impacting us,” said Joan Carling, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an Indigenous nonprofit that works to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.
Indigenous peoples around the world are experiencing the compounding pressures of clean energy mining projects, carbon offsets, new protected areas and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of economic recovery efforts in the wake of Covid-19, according to The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 2023 report.
Green colonialism threatens ecosystems
As states around the world trend towards transitioning to “clean” energy to meet their national and international climate goals, the demand for minerals like lithium, copper, and nickel needed for batteries that power the energy revolution are projected to skyrocket. The demand could swell fourfold by 2040, and by conservative estimates could pull in $1.7 trillion in mining investments.
Although Indigenous delegates say they support “clean” energy projects, one of the issues is their land rights: more than half of the projects extracting these minerals currently are on or near lands where Indigenous peoples or peasants live, according to an analysis published in Nature.
This can lead to their eviction from territories, loss of livelihoods, or the deforestation and degradation of surrounding ecosystems.
“And yet […] we are not part of the discussion,” said Carling. “That’s why I call it green colonialism — the [energy] transition without the respect of Indigenous rights is another form of colonialism.”
Companies and governments don’t abide by communities
Because of this, delegates are calling on countries and companies to create binding policy and guidelines that require FPIC for all projects that affect Indigenous peoples and their lands, as well as financial, territorial and material remedies for when companies and countries fail to do so.
However, there is some push back. The free prior, informed consent process can lead to a wide variety of outcomes including the right for communities to decline a highly profitable project, which can often be difficult for countries, companies and investors to abide by, explains Mary Beth Gallagher, the director of engagement of investment at Domini Impact Investments, who spoke at a side event on shareholder advocacy.
Indigenous Sámi delegates from Norway drew attention to their need for legally enforceable FPIC protection as they continue to protest the Fosen Vind Project, an onshore wind energy complex on Sámi territory, that the country’s Supreme Court ruled violated their rights.
“We have come to learn the hard way that sustainability doesn’t end colonialism,” said a Sámi delegate during the main panel on Tuesday.
Across the globe indigenous peoples face eviction
In the United States, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the People of Red Mountain and members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe filed lawsuits against the federal Bureau of Land Management for approving the permits for an open-pit lithium mine without proper consultation with the tribes. In the Colombian Amazon, the Inga Indigenous community presented a successful appeal for lack of prior consultation from a Canadian company that plans to mine copper, molybdenum and other metals in their highly biodiverse territory.
While delegates put a lot of emphasis on the lack of FPIC, they put equal emphasis on FPIC as a crucial part of the long-term sustainability of energy projects.
“FPIC is more than just a checklist for companies looking to develop projects on Indigenous lands,” said Carling. “It is a framework for partnership, including options for equitable benefit sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.”
The focus at this year’s conference has emphasized the growing role of FPIC in the private sector. Investors and developers are increasingly considering the inclusion of FPIC into their human rights due diligence standards. Select countries such as Canada have implemented UNDRIP in full, although First Nation groups have pointed out irregularities in how it is being implemented. The European Union is proposing including specific mandatory rights to FPIC in its corporate sustainability due diligence regulation. Side events at the UNPFII focused on topics like transmitting FPIC Priorities to the private sector and using shareholder advocacy to increase awareness of FPIC.
Gallagher of Domini Impact Investments said companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, which includes FPIC: “If they have a human rights commitment or they have a commitment in their policies not to do land grabs, we have to hold them to account for that.”
Indigenous leadership at the center of negotiations
In 2021, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, published an expectation that companies “obtain (and maintain) the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for business decisions that affect their rights.” Large banks like Credit Agricole have included FPIC in their corporate social responsibility policy. But in most cases, even when companies have a FPIC policy it doesn’t conform to the standard outlined in UNDRIP and is not legally binding.
“It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do to protect self-determination,” said Kate Finn, director at First Peoples Worldwide. “It becomes a check-the-box procedure that’s solely consultations and stakeholder consultation instead of protection of rights and self-determination.”
“If communities aren’t giving their consent, a company has to respect that,” said Gallagher, who added “There’s obviously points of tension where investors have different agendas and priorities but ultimately, it’s about centering Indigenous leadership and working through that.”
Not properly abiding by FPIC can be costly to companies in countries that operate where it is a legal instrument. It comes with risks of losing their social operation to license, and financial damages. According to a study by First Peoples Worldwide, Energy Transfer and the banks that financed the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline, lost billions due to construction delays, account closures, and contract losses after they failed to obtain consent from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.
Ultimately, Indigenous people need to be part of decision-making from the beginning of any project, especially “clean” energy projects mining for transition minerals on their territories, said Carling. “For us, land is life, and we have a right to decide over what happens on our land.”
Banner by Carolina Caycedo. Lithium Intensive, 2022. Color pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published in 2021, but is timely today as the new Christopher Nolan film “Oppenheimer” has just been released. As people are coming to realize the Bright Green Lies of “renewable” energy, they are looking for other ways to continue their unsustainable lifestyles. Many people are seriously considering risking more nuclear reactor accidents, waste and nuclear winter as the war in Ukraine continues to escalate.
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking. Thus, we are drifting toward catastrophe beyond conception. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
― Albert Einstein
At 8:15am on August 6, 1945, cameras began to click on board the Necessary Evil, a military flight over southern Japan. Necessary Evil’s mission was to photograph the first atomic bombing in history. Nearby, on board another plane, the Enola Gay, bombardiers opened hatches on the belly of the plane and pulled levers to release the bomb.
It was called Little Boy. Ten feet long and 28 inches in diameter, it weighed 9,700 pounds, 141 of which were enriched uranium. The bomb dropped out of the plane and began falling. It took about 12 seconds to reach terminal velocity, which, for a big oblong object like Little Boy is around 1,000 feet per second. But the extra 12 seconds of time for spend accelerating meant that it took 53 seconds to fall from 31,060 feet to 1,900 feet, where it detonated.
The explosion began directly above a hospital, Shima byōin. Within a fraction of a second, the 80 residents and staff of that building, and perhaps 20,000 other people, were dead. The first died from thermal radiation, which travels at the speed of light and causes “flash burns.” Within seconds, the blast wave followed, traveling at 300 meters per second, rupturing eardrums, shredding lungs, tearing blood vessels, and flattening buildings.
Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on another city in southern Japan, Nagasaki. Within 4 months, as casualties from radiation burns and firestorms mounted, the death toll from these two bombs reached 200,000, with as many again injured.
Mass destruction was not new. Earlier that year, in March, 325 U.S. Air Force planes bombed Tokyo with napalm, igniting a firestorm that destroyed a quarter of the city and killed 100,000 people. But Hiroshima marked the beginning of the nuclear age. Now, the same destruction could be executed with a single plane and a single bomb.
Ever since, historians have argued over whether or not these bombings were necessary. The U.S. Military’s own review concluded “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts… [that] prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.” Many have concluded that the bombings were, as Nobel-prize winning scientist Patrick Blackett wrote, “the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia.”
That Cold War began with 200,000 deaths, and the atrocities would continue over the coming decades, all around the world: coups, assassinations, political purges, gulags, McCarthyism, proxy wars, and brutal economic combat.
While World War II and The Cold War have ended, the threat of nuclear war has not, and neither has the danger posed by nuclear power generation. And while the dangers of Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and especially Chernobyl [and the risks around Zaporizhzhya, today] cannot be underestimated, nuclear waste is perhaps a bigger danger than accidents.
This trifecta of horrors—nuclear war, nuclear accidents, and nuclear waste—still haunts our world today.
Immediately following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists from the Manhattan Project created a non-profit organization called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists dedicated to educating about the dangers our world faces “at a time when technology is outpacing our ability to control it.”
In 1947, members of the Bulletin launched “The Doomsday Clock” — a metaphorical representation of the likelihood of global catastrophe. Each year, a team of scientists, Nobel laureates, and others experts meets to consider the current state of man-made global threats from nuclear weapons, global warming, and disruptive technology, and set the time on the clock accordingly. The closer to midnight, the higher the level of danger.
The doomsday clock currently is set 90 seconds to midnight.
This is the direst warning the Bulletin has ever issued.
In explanation, the Bulletin’s scientists write that “Accelerating nuclear programs in multiple countries moved the world into less stable and manageable territory [over the past year]… Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension… Nuclear nations… have ignored or undermined practical and available diplomatic and security tools for managing nuclear risks. By our estimation, the potential for the world to stumble into nuclear war—an ever-present danger over the last 75 years—increased in 2020. An extremely dangerous global failure to address existential threats… tightened its grip in the nuclear realm in the past year, increasing the likelihood of catastrophe.”
The link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons is long established. The enriched uranium and plutonium, as well as other so-called “fissionable material” used in nuclear weapons, can be sourced from nuclear reactors, which is why Iran’s creation of a civilian nuclear power program has been so contentious over the past decade.
Proponents of nuclear power argue that it is a safe, low-carbon energy source. There are nearly 500 nuclear power reactors in the world today, with more under construction. But beyond the risks of nuclear accidents and the nightmare of nuclear waste (who thinks it is a good idea to intentionally unearth and enrich materials that will be highly toxic for billions of years?), each of these reactors is a potential vector for dangerous weapons-grade nuclear materials to be lost, stolen, or knowingly redirected into weapons programs.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, there were 46 cases of nuclear materials being stolen between 2010 and 2016, as well as 57 cases of lost material, and dozens of other concerning incidents. There are already nearly 900,000 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium stored around the world, most of it in Russia and the United States.
You may wonder how this is connected to Thacker Pass (Peehee Mu’huh” in the Paiute language). For the past 31 months, I have been working to protect this part of remote Northern Nevada from a proposed 28-square mile lithium mine. The mainstream environmental organizations weren’t doing anything about it, so I decided I had to.
Joining with my friend Will Falk and working to find other allies, we set out to stop the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Supporters of lithium mining believ it’s an essential mineral to help move away from fossil fuels and help, global warming. We disagree. Lithium is dangerous, for many reasons.
This work hasn’t been easy. We’ve endured winter storms, blistering temperatures, physical and legal threats, three years of long days and late-night work sessions, and the BLM is attempting to fine me and my friend Will Falk $49,890.13 for defending this land. Now, we’re being sued for defending the land. The forces arrayed against us are powerful. But we persist.
The booming demand for lithium is mainly driven by the electric vehicle industry, and demand for massive “grid-scale” batteries to store electricity from intermittent sources like wind and solar energy generation facilities. But lithium is also used in a wide variety of other industries.
This includes chemical propellants for rockets and torpedoes used by militaries and in spaceflight; in glass production; in metallurgy such as aluminum smelting, alloy production, and welding; in the production of fireworks and flares; and in the production of synthetic rubber and other plastics.
But here, I want to focus on a problem that I have not seen discussed before in regards to the Thacker Pass mine: the links between lithium and the nuclear industry.
There are two stable isotopes of lithium: lithium-6 and lithium-7. According to the World Nuclear Association, “Lithium-7 has two important uses in nuclear power today and tomorrow due to its relative transparency to neutrons. As hydroxide it is necessary in small quantities for safe operation in pressurised water reactor (PWR) cooling systems as a pH stabilizer, to reduce corrosion in the primary circuit. As a fluoride, it is also expected to come into much greater demand for molten salt reactors (MSRs).”
PWRs, or Pressurized Water Reactors, are a type of nuclear reactor that can be found in exactly two thirds of the world’s nuclear power plants. Engineers at these facilities, most of which are quite old at this point, are constantly dealing with corrosion in the components of their radioactive water cycling systems. Highly purified lithium-7 hydroxide is used in these systems “as an additive in PWR primary coolant, at about 2.2 ppm, for maintaining water chemistry, counteracting the corrosive effects of boric acid (used as neutron absorber) and minimizing corrosion in steam generators of PWRs.”
Lithium-7 is also used directly in nuclear weapons, where the reaction itself can produce the necessary tritium to fuel a runaway nuclear reaction. In 1954, the largest atmospheric nuclear weapons test in US history took place over the Bikini Atoll. Due to a shortage of lithium-6 (which is less common and hard to produce), the “Shot Bravo” nuke was built with lithium-7 instead. The bomb was projected to yield a 10-megaton blast. But due to lithium-7’s incredibly explosive features, the yield was 15 megatons—equivalent to every bomb dropped by the allies in World War II exploding at once.
One account describes the effect of the bomb: “An entire island turned into radioactive dust and the fallout seriously contaminated Bikini and two neighboring atolls. The ships of the Operation Castle task force steamed at flank speed away from the mushroom cloud, their decks covered with radioactive coral shards. The Japanese fishing vessel Fifth Lucky Dragon, sailing well outside the safety zone, suffered one death and several casualties from radiation. The bomb’s firing crew retreated to a closet in their concrete bunker for 12 hours while their Geiger counters roared.”
Lithium-6 is more rare than lithium-7 in nature, but is widely used in the nuclear weapons industry. When used as a target element in a reactor or a nuclear weapon, it reacts with a neutron to produce tritium (T), the most important thermonuclear material for weapons. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, “Lithium 6 is a critical raw material needed for the production of single-stage thermonuclear and boosted fission weapons.”
In the United States, the Tennessee Valley Authority operates three nuclear reactors. One of these, Watts Bar, uses lithium as the feedstock for producing tritium for use in nuclear weapons. This tritium is a key component in those weapons, but it needs to be constantly replenished. Tritium has a half-life of only 12.3 years and decays at 5.5% annually. That’s why tritium sourced from reactors using lithium is currently being used to rebuild and replace the U.S. nuclear arsenal as part of a 30-year, trillion dollar nuclear weapons plan launched under Obama.
Many critics of the nuclear weapons industry believe that nuclear power is, in general, little more than a civilian cover for the production of nuclear weapon material.
Meanwhile, advocates of nuclear power such as Bill Gates argue that next-generation reactors will address the problems that have plagued nuclear power—safety issues, radioactive waste, weapons proliferation, and high cost. But the Union of Concerned Scientists calls this “wishful thinking,” noting in their most recent report that serious concerns remain unresolved.
Modular Salt Reactors (MSRs), for example, produce massive amounts of radioactive waste that is exceptionally dangerous from a nuclear proliferation standpoint (U-233), and they are extremely difficult to clean up at the end of their relatively short lifespans. Current prototypes also depend heavily on lithium. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both on the verge of activating MSR reactors (perhaps with illegal assistance from the Trump Administration and U.S. corporations), which may lead directly to them becoming nuclear powers. And fusion reactors, for the foreseeable future, consume far more energy than they produce, amounting to nothing more than an exceptionally expensive and dangerous experiment (an experiment in which lithium is being used to control plasma).
The bottom line here is that the dangerous nuclear power industry, and the nuclear weapons that depend on it, require a steady supply of lithium. As nuclear tensions once again escalate, the Department of Energy is moving toward 100% U.S. sourcing of uranium in order to bypass international treaty obligations, which require the disclosure of locations and volumes of highly enriched uranium a country possesses. By cutting out foreign sourcing, the supply chain is kept more obscure. A similar consideration no doubt underlies, in part, the swift permitting of the Thacker Pass lithium mine. This mine is a part of the nuclear supply chain, and given that most U.S. lithium is now sourced overseas, war hawks no doubt prefer that this place is sacrificed.
One must step outside the halls of power to find sanity. The nuclear industry has been an unmitigated disaster from the beginning. I say this as someone who grew up in Washington State. We have seen the horror that is Hanford. And Nevadans know the perils of nuclear weapons and waste better than almost anyone else on the planet.
If the Thacker Pass lithium mine is built, lithium produced there may end up inside nuclear reactors and inside nuclear weapons. How would you feel if you were involved in a project that supplied critical material to power the next nuclear disaster?
Yes, Nevada has a bleak history of nuclear weapons testing and waste storage. Yet from the Nevada Test Site to Yucca Mountain, there is as long and as rich a history of resistance. Of sanity. Of desire for peace. I would like to invite all the activists, politicians, and regular people who fought nuclear testing and nuclear waste disposal across this region to join the fight against lithium mining as well.
There are many ways of laying waste to the Earth, and to our future. Nuclear technologies and strip mining are two of them. And in this case, they are firmly linked. That is why we must stand up against lithium mining and nuclear catastrophes alike.
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
― C. S. Lewis
The 2023 DGR conference is scheduled for late August in northern California. This annual gathering is an opportunity for our community to share skills, reflect on our work, strengthen our connections, and plan for the future. While this conference is only open to DGR members, we do invite friends and allies on a case-by-case basis. If you’re interested in attending, please contact us, and if you’d like to donate to support the conference, click here.
Editor’s Note: The Manila Bay Reclamation Project is a series of projects around the bay in the cities of Manila, Pasay, Parañaque, Navotas, and Cavite. The projects- that should more accurately be called land grabs- ironically assert to “reclaim” the bay area for commercial, residential and tourism development. Offshore mining has started in the Manila Bay area.
Fisherfolks in the area have not been informed about the seabed quarry before it began. Now there are no fish for them to catch. Their entire livelihood has been destroyed. Many have relocated to other areas. The following is a statement by a coalition of organizations fighting for community rights and against the seabed quarry.
Statement on State of National Address
July 24, 2023
STATE OF NO ACTION (SONA). This is possibly our most apt evaluation of the performance of President Bongbong Marcos, Jr. and DENR Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga.
One full year in office, and yet PBBM and Secretary Loyzaga have not acted on the demands of mining-affected communities, particularly the residents of Sibuyan Island, Romblon and Brooke’s Point, Palawan.
During last year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) conducted a “serenade” at the DENR grounds addressing then newly-appointed DENR Secretary Loyzaga. We brought fruits and flowers as gifts, symbolizing the preservation of natural resources and our earnest desire to dialogue with the government.
Over the course of a year, grassroots communities have undertaken various activities to articulate our situation and push for our demands. The activities range from submission of petition letters and research studies, to vigils, dialogues and protest actions.
In particular, residents of Sibuyan and Brooke’s put up barricades demanding a halt in mining operations deemed illegal for lack of proper permits. People from both regions have been insistently asking the DENR for the cancellation of the MPSAs of the concerned mining companies.
The DENR did open its doors for consultations as well as dialogues with those either knocking on or protesting at its gates. They did give an ear to the leaders and representatives of mining-affected communities. They did promise to conduct investigations and address the concerns of people on the ground.
But, until now, mining-affected communities are still awaiting decisive government actions. Investigations have still to be conducted, mining operations have yet to be permanently stopped, and mining contracts have still to be cancelled.
Worse, while the demands of mining-affected communities are ignored, mining companies are given headway in their operations.
For instance, despite the moratorium in new applications for seabed quarrying permits imposed by the previous administration, seabed quarrying and offshore mining have become more active than ever.
Presently, there are 11 large-scale offshore mining projects all over the country. Also, based on a list obtained from the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), there are 175 reclamation projects lined up at different stages of application. According to environmental groups belonging to People’s NICHE, there are at least 46 reclamation projects in Manila Bay alone which would affect 32,000-hectares of fishing waters.
In the midst of a climate emergency, the continued destruction of nature through mining and other extractive activities is simply unacceptable. For the continued destructive operations of mining companies and the miserable conditions of people in mining-affected communities, we hold PBBM and the DENR fully accountable.
On this second State of the Nation Address, we strongly call on President Marcos and DENR Sec. Loyzaga to immediately and decisively act on the demands of the people.
Specifically, we demand a stop to destructive and illegal mining operations through the cancellation of large-scale mining contracts in Sibuyan and Brooke’s Point, and other sites of struggles. We also urgently call for a comprehensive review of seabed quarrying and offshore mining activities and a halt to the operations in Manila Bay.
We do not want to waste more time waiting. The time to act is NOW.
Pagkatapos ng usapan, AKSYON ANG KAILANGAN!
Alyansa Tigil Mina
Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party
Aksyon sa Kahandaan sa Kalamidad at Klima (AKKMA)
Alliances of Buguey for Community Development Advocates (Albucoda)
Alyansa Kontra Mina – Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental
Ang Aroroy Ay Alagaan, Inc (4As)
Anislagan Bantay Kalikasan Task Force (ABAKATAF)
Aroroy Youth Environmental Guardian (AYEG)
Bangan – Malabago Fisherfolk Association- BMFA
Bayay Sibuyanon Inc. (BSI)
Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Bileg)
Carrascal Cantilan Madrid Carmen Lanuza Baywatch (CCMCL Baywatch)
Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice (CIEJ)
Didipio Earth Savers Multi- Purpose Association- (DESMA)
Guardians Brotherhood International Humanitarian Leadership, Inc.
Koalisyon ng Mamamayan at Sambayanan sa Northern at Sentral Luzon (Kumasa Na)
La Fraternidad Fisherfolk and Women Group (LAFFWO)
Living Laudatu Si
Marian Women Producers’ Cooperative (MWPC)
Maporac Aetas Organization- MAO
Nature Ambassadors of Sibuyan Island (NASI)
Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK)- Negros Oriental Provincial Council
Risktaker- AMKKAS (Alyansa ng mga Mamamayan para sa Kalikasan ng Kasibu)
Samahan ng Mangingisdang Kababaihan sa Minanga Este (Samakami)
Sibuyanon Against Mining (SAM)
Tagbuyawan Lakeshore Association
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
Tubajon People’s Council (TUPECO)
Unahin Lagi ang Diyos (UNLAD)
Working Youth of Tubay (WYC)
Zambales North Payao Fisherfolk Association (ZambaNorFa)