“Green” Marble for Bin Laden Pollutes Italian Land

“Green” Marble for Bin Laden Pollutes Italian Land

Editor’s note: The mining industry is one of the most significant human rights violators in the world. Mines are one of the most dangerous and hazardous places to work. People do not willingly let go of their subsistence economies to work in mines and quarries. They have to be forced to do so. One of the ways mining companies do that is by taking away the means of a subsistence economy. This is the story of many mines across the world. In this piece, we bring to you a story from Tuscany, Italy. It traces out the history of marble quarrying in the Mountains of the Moon (Apuan Alps), and the struggle by local communities against the quarries.


By Miguel Martinez/Kelebek Blog

Four of us set out from Florence, with dawn beginning to light up the waters of the Arno, for Carrara, city of marble, sea, quarrymen and anarchists.

Where the global marble business has stolen the ancient commons of the local inhabitants with the complicity of political forces of the right and left, and every year extracts five million tons of irreplaceable limestone: some 80% is scrap used as calcium carbonate CaCo3, a filler in paper, glass, plastics, paint, beauty creams, but above all, toothpaste.

We are going to attend a crowded conference to which every local councillor had been invited, yet not a single one had the courage to show up.

You may not know that in the northwestern corner of Tuscany there is a mountain range, unique in Europe, a mere 55 kilometres long, that has nothing to do with the nearby, smooth Apennines: the range is that of the Mountains of the Moon, known today as the “Apuan Alps“, because of their craggy peaks – from the Pania della Croce I looked over the Tyrrhenian Sea from Elba on the left to Corsica to beyond Genoa on the right, nearly to France.

Picture by Claudio Grande

Those mountains were raised from the bottom of the sea floor, by countless billions of tiny uncelebrated lives of creatures with calcareous shells, corals, molluscs, and fish with their bones. It took them some three hundred million years, till all their seaworld was thrust up into the sky.

“Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

Those flickering underwater lives became the world’s most renowned source of marble. Marmo di Carrara…

A world of peaks and caves and underground cavities like the Antro della Corchia, but like many others no one has yet explored, something like what Gimli spoke of in the Lord of the Rings:

“My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm’s Deep are vast and beautiful? There would be an endless pilgrimage of Dwarves, merely to gaze at them, if such things were known to be. Aye indeed, they would pay pure gold for a brief glance!’

‘And I would give gold to be excused,’ said Legolas; ‘and double to be let out, if I strayed in!’

‘You have not seen, so I forgive your jest,’ said Gimli. ‘But you speak like a fool. Do you think those halls are fair, where your King dwells under the hill in Mirkwood, and Dwarves helped in their making long ago? They are but hovels compared with the caverns I have seen here: immeasurable halls, filled with an everlasting music of water that tinkles into pools, as fair as Kheled-zâram in the starlight.”

The law that has been cast over the world in the last centuries knows only the faceless state on the one hand, and private property on the other: where private stems from the Roman idea of someone de-priving everybody else of something.

Both the state and private property were alien to the Commons of those who were bold enough to live in the mountains: shepherds, farmers and quarrymen of the marble that could be used for a pillar in Rome, then for a statue by Donatello or – much more often – for a gravestone to remember the dead: a friend of mine has a house at Minazzana, where Michelangelo, just 22, used to stop over, to select the right marble for the Pietà.

Some ninety years ago, one of the greatest and least remembered poets of the English language, Basil Bunting, came to live under the shadows of the Mountains of the Moon:

White marble stained like a urinal
cleft in Apuan Alps,
always trickling, apt to the saw. Ice and wedge
split it or well-measured cordite shots,
while paraffin pistons rap, saws rip
and clamour is clad in stillness:
clouds echo marble middens, sugar-white,
that cumber the road stones travel
to list the names of the dead.

There is a lot of Italy in churchyards,
sea on the left, the Garfagnana
over the wall, la Cisa flaking
to hillside fiddlers above Parma,
melancholy, swift,
with light bow blanching the dance.

Marble quarrying is by its very nature irreversible destruction. Basil Bunting could already hear the “well-measured cordite shots“, but before that came two thousand years of pickaxes hewing the rock.

The countless thousands of quarrymen who fell to their deaths, who were crushed as they rolled gigantic blocks of marble down the lizze, wheels made of tree trunks, could never regrow what they destroyed.

Yet the mountains were vast, gravestones countless yet small, and Michelangelos few: the true assault on the mountains is far more recent – in the last thirty years, more marble has been extracted than in all previous human history.

The first change came in the eighteenth century, when Tuscany’s most beloved ruler, the enlightened Pietro Leopoldo, suppressed the ancient custom of the death penalty.

But while he was at it, he also began to suppress the ancient custom of democracy; and started the privatisation of what had once been Commons, usi civici, domini collettivi, as they are still called today.

This was when a young man from Wakefield in England, William Walton, embodying the whole New World, arrived in the village of Serravezza:

“An active young man well versed in commercial and financial practices, young Walton is also gifted with a remarkable aptitude for solving organisational and technical problems and in this early period of his stay in Italy he looked around
in search of the most profitable industrial or commercial activity.”

 

Walton turned the world of small craftsmen upside down:

“By 1866 Walton headed an industrial and commercial empire which covered all the aspects of marble production, quarrying, transport, sawmills, and sea transport to the customers”

British and French fought each other in a senseless war that led to the death of millions; but found themselves together in exploiting the Apuan Alps.

More on marble quarrying

Jean Baptiste Alexandre Henraux, a Napoleonic soldier charged with the task of stealing works of art out of Italy and bringing them to the Louvre, took the fine title of “Royal Superintendent of the selection and acquisition of white and statuary marble from Carrara for public monuments in France“.

In the very same years when the colonizers of North America were stealing land from the Native Americans, Henraux and his heirs opened 132 quarries, seizing possession of the commons belonging to the Comunità civica della Cappella “Civic Community of the Chapel”, so named for one of those places of worship where mountain people looking at the skies and feeling the icy wind, thank the saints for still being alive.

Today, the Henraux have faded out: in 2014, the company was bought out by CPC Marble & Granite, based in Cyprus,

the major supplier of all finishing material to Makkah and Madinah Holy Mosques Expansions”

but above all, a member of the Binladen Group Global Holding Company: in 2018, Osama‘s less famous brother, Bakr, while in gaol for corruption, transferred his share to the Saudi government. So today, Anrò as the locals quaintly call the Henraux company, is actually a part of the worldwide network of Saudi power.

People from Riomagno, Azzano, Fabiano, Giustagnana, Minazzana, Basati, Cerreta Sant’Antonio and Ruosina, to cite ancient names, dispossessed like the Sioux and Mapuche: it is curious to note how many Italians stand for distant peoples, yet know nothing about their neighbours. And how other Italians, who complain of Islamic invasion when a few immigrants come to pray together, fall silent when the Saudi government takes over slices of Italian land.

Fragments of Italian laws still recognise the basic principle underlying the Commons: that there is not only the bureaucrat versus the individual, but that what existed before both, also has rights: not the ‘it’ of the state versus the ‘I’, but we-our-people.

Today, the Comunità civica della Cappella is claiming back the stolen land.

And it has won cases in court.

So, the centre-right mayor of the municipality of Serravezza invented an agreement with the landrobbers, to give them almost everything, while leaving some woods in the hands of the Civic Community.

This decision required the approval of the representatives of the Civic Community, who of course were not willing to sign.

Then the Regional Government, in the hands of the centre-left party, found a way to prevent the Civic Community from regularly electing a board which could object to the decision of the centre-right mayor.

Corporations, faceless global acronyms, can today exploit not only the lands the commoners once owned, but also public lands, with what are called “grants“. Grants are for a limited period, but as they expire, the Regional Government has devised a creative way of greenwashing.

The commoners’ pickaxes left minimal waste; but the well measured cordite shots turned most of the marble into waste, currently 75% is allowed, in some cases, 95%.

However, if companies, instead of just leaving the waste on the ground in the great ravaneti which mark the territory, turn even that waste into profit for themselves as calcium carbonate for toothpaste and beauty cream, their grants are extended for years.

The rest of the waste becomes marmèttola, a fine white powder which enters the mysterious underground cavities of the Apuan Alps, where rainwater flows in becoming springs and lakes, and renders these waters undrinkable.

Ironically, this whole area is officially a “UNESCO Global Geopark“.

As everywhere else, global corporations seek local complicity.

First of all, speaking of employment. The local newspaper, reporting the conference we went to (or rather, “ecologists march on the Apuan Alps“), quoted a marbledealer in its title, “If we close down, we’ll all die here”.

Actually, the global corporations have cut every possible workplace, through technological innovation. With production at a level never seen before, employment is down to a few hundred people, against 20.000 employed some decades ago.

At the same time, marble blocks, instead of being processed locally, are shipped directly to China. However, the first cut is made in Italy, which is enough to make patriotic rightists feel all is well.

The Fondazione Marmo, the Marble Foundation paid for by the global dealers, pays for many local initiatives where a park becomes “green” and “inclusive” through planting some trees, marble statues speak of “peace“, “marble is on the side of women“, “marble for health“. And other Orwellian words which make every left-leaning heart beat happily.

Thousands of local people, in a small community, can be bought over this way, blending the donation of minor hospital equipment, with the mirage of jobs, with the idea of continuing the work of Michelangelo.

While the cancer rate in the area, unsurprisingly, is the highest in the region, as is the unemployment rate.

And of course, there will be no water in a few years, when all the springs have been poisoned, and no jobs when artificial intelligence has taken over even the job of the people who write obedient titles in the local press.

What Does the Earth Want From Us?

What Does the Earth Want From Us?

Editor’s Note: The Earth wants to live. And she wants us to stop destroying her. It is a simple answer, but one with many complex processes. How do we get there? Shall I leave my attachments with the industrial world and being off-the-grid living, like we were supposed to? Will that help Earth?

Yes, we need to leave this way of life and live more sustainably. But what the Earth needs is more than that. It is not one person who should give up on this industrial way of life, rather it is the entire industrial civilization that should stop existing. This requires a massive cultural shift from this globalized culture to a more localized one. In this article, Katie Singer explores the harms of this globalized system and a need to shift to a more local one. You can find her at katiesinger@substack.com


What Does the Earth Want From Us?

By Katie Singer/Substack

Last Fall, I took an online course with the philosopher Bayo Akomolafe to explore creativity and reverence while we collapse. He called the course We Will Dance with Mountains, and I loved it. I loved the warm welcome and libations given by elders at each meeting’s start. I loved discussing juicy questions with people from different continents in the breakout rooms. I loved the phenomenal music, the celebration of differently-abled thinking, the idea of Blackness as a creative way of being. When people shared tears about the 75+-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I felt humanly connected.

By engaging about 500 mountain dancers from a half dozen continents, the ten-session course displayed technology’s wonders.

I could not delete my awareness that online conferencing starts with a global super-factory that ravages the Earth. It extracts petroleum coke from places like the Tar Sands to smelt quartz gravel for every computer’s silicon transistors. It uses fossil fuels to power smelters and refineries. It takes water from farmers to make transistors electrically conductive. Its copper and nickel mining generates toxic tailings. Its ships (that transport computers’ raw materials to assembly plants and final products to consumers) guzzle ocean-polluting bunker fuel.

Doing anything online requires access networks that consume energy during manufacturing and operation. Wireless ones transmit electro-magnetic radiation 24/7.

More than a decade before AI put data demands on steroids, Greenpeace calculated that if data storage centers were a country, they’d rank fifth in use of energy.

Then, dumpsites (in Africa, in India) fill with dead-and-hazardous computers and batteries. To buy schooling, children scour them for copper wires.

Bayo says, “in order to find your way, you must lose it.”

Call me lost. I want to reduce my digital footprint.

A local dancer volunteered to organize an in-person meeting for New Mexicans. She invited us to consider the question, “What does the land want from me?”

Such a worthwhile question.

It stymied me.

I’ve lived in New Mexico 33 years. When new technologies like wireless Internet access in schools, 5G cell sites on public rights-of-way, smart meters or an 800-acre solar facility with 39 flammable batteries (each 40 feet long), I’ve advocated for professional engineering due diligence to ensure fire safety, traffic safety and reduced impacts to wildlife and public health. I’ve attended more judicial hearings, city council meetings and state public regulatory cases and written more letters to the editor than I can count.

In nearly every case, my efforts have failed. I’ve seen the National Environmental Protection Act disregarded. I’ve seen Section 704 of the 1996 Telecom Act applied. (It prohibits legislators faced with a permit application for transmitting cellular antennas from considering the antennas’ environmental or public health impacts.) Corporate aims have prevailed. New tech has gone up.

What does this land want from me?

The late ecological economist Herman Daly said, “Don’t take from the Earth faster than it can replenish; don’t waste faster than it can absorb.” Alas, it’s not possible to email, watch a video, drive a car, run a fridge—or attend an online conference—and abide by these principles. While we ravage the Earth for unsustainable technologies, we also lose know-how about growing and preserving food, communicating, educating, providing health care, banking and traveling with limited electricity and web access. (Given what solar PVs, industrial wind, batteries and e-vehicles take from the Earth to manufacture, operate and discard, we cannot rightly call them sustainable.)

What does the land want from me?

If I want accurate answers to this question, I need first to know what I take from the land. Because my tools are made with internationally-mined-and-processed materials, I need to know what they demand not just from New Mexico, but also from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Chile, China, the Tar Sands, the deep sea and the sky.

Once soil or water or living creatures have PFAS in them, for example, the chemicals will stay there forever. Once a child has been buried alive while mining for cobalt, they’re dead. Once corporations mine lithium in an ecosystem that took thousands of years to form, on land with sacred burial grounds, it cannot be restored.

One hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner observed that because flicking a switch can light a room (and the wiring remains invisible), people would eventually lose the need to think.

Indeed, technologies have outpaced our awareness of how they’re made and how they work. Technologies have outpaced our regulations for safety, environmental health and public health.

Calling for awareness of tech’s consequences—and calling for limits—have become unwelcome.

In the last session of We Will Dance with Mountains, a host invited us to share what we’d not had a chance to discuss. AI put me in a breakout room with another New Mexican. I said that we’ve not discussed how our online conferences ravage the Earth. I said that I don’t know how to share this info creatively or playfully. I want to transition—not toward online living and “renewables” (a marketing term for goods that use fossil fuels, water and plenty of mining for their manufacture and operation and discard)—but toward local food, local health care, local school curricula, local banking, local manufacturing, local community.

I also don’t want to lose my international connections.

Bayo Akomolafe says he’s learning to live “with confusion and make do with partial answers.”

My New Mexican friend aptly called what I know a burden. When he encouraged me to say more, I wrote this piece.

What does the land want from us? Does the Earth want federal agencies to create and monitor regulations that decrease our digital footprint? Does the Earth want users aware of the petroleum coke, wood, nickel, tin, gold, copper and water that every computer requires—or does it want these things invisible?

Does the Earth want us to decrease mining, manufacturing, consumption—and dependence on international corporations? Does it want children to dream that we live in a world with no limits—or to learn how to limit web access?

Popular reports from 2023

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Call Me a Nimby” (a response to Bill McKibben’s Santa Fe talk)

Do I report what I’ve learned about solar PVs—or live with it, privately?

E-vehicles

Transportation within our means: initiating the conversation overdue

Who’s in charge of EV chargers—and other power grid additions?

When Land I Love Holds Lithium: Max Wilbert on Thacker Pass, Nevada

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

The ESA Is Not Protecting Wolverines

The ESA Is Not Protecting Wolverines

Editor’s Note: There are fewer than 300 wolverines in the contiguous United States. Wolverines were listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states  under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in November 2023. But there are still exceptions to the protection for the wolverines. The following is a piece written by Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. He describes the legal situation regarding the protection of the wolverines. Finally the piece ends with a call for action to remove these exceptions.


Wolverines Protected Under the ESA. Here is the Rest of the Story

By Mike Garrity/Counterpunch

The Nov. 2023 issue of Scientific American reports that more than 1,600 species have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but less than 6% of species have recovered. We have to start recovering species and with wolverine, we need to start by protecting their habitat and outlawing trapping there with real protective administrative rules or regulations, not weak protections that place imperiled wolverines on the road to extinction.

After more than 20 years of advocacy and litigation by the Western Environmental Law Center for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and other wildlife conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that wolverines warrant federal protection as a threatened species under the ESA.

Protects species and the ecosystems upon which they depend

The purposes of the ESA are two-fold: to prevent extinction and to recover species. It therefore “protect[s] species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”

We are thankful after two successful lawsuits and court orders that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally came to its senses and protected wolverines under the ESA. But like everything, the devil is in the details.

Wolverines are now protected under the ESA but the next step is recovering wolverines and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The Fish and Wildlife Service does this through administrative rules to issue regulations that are necessary to protect and recover species listed as threatened and their habitat.

Exceptions

The proposed administrative rule for wolverines has exceptions that include:

(1) taking, or killing, wolverines due to scientific research conducted on wolverines by a federal or Tribal biologists,

(2) incidental take or destruction of wolverine habitat from logging for the purposes of reducing wildfire,

(3) incidental take or killing of wolverines from legal trapping consistent with state and Tribal trapping rules.

Before our court victory stopped recreational wolverine trapping in Montana in 2012, trappers killed about a dozen wolverines a year. Since then, 12 wolverines have been accidentally trapped in Montana, leading to three deaths. In Idaho, nine wolverines have been trapped resulting in two deaths that they know of since 2017.

Lose a foot

Assuming a trapper could even release an angry wolverine from a trap, most animals released after their blood circulation was cut off to a foot for several days in subzero weather end up with their frozen foot falling off, according to the Carter Niemeyer, a retired trapper for U.S.D.A.’s Wildlife Services. It is hard enough for a wolverine with four feet to survive. It is almost impossible for a wolverine to survive in the wild with only three feet. Therefore, the death toll on wolverines from accidental trapping is most likely higher.

Continued Destruction of Wolverine Habitat

The proposed administrative exception to allow the destruction or “take” of wolverine habitat for logging that pretends to fireproof a forest is an exception that swallows the rule. Almost every logging or clearcutting project on national forests in wolverine habitat is now for “fireproofing forests,” which is impossible to do and is just an excuse to mow down our national forests for private profit. We cannot help reclusive wolverines recover if we continue to bulldoze logging roads through all of their habitat and clear-cut forests.

What you can do

Please consider asking to the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the exceptions allowing trapping, clearcutting and bulldozing logging roads in wolverine habitat by: going to https://www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter FWS-R6-ES-2023-0216, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.

or

(2) By hard copy: U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES- 2023-0216; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: PRB/3W; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. Comments are due by January 28, 2024.

Thank you for considering commenting on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s pathetic wolverine regulations, which won’t recover wolverines.

Banner: Wolverine on rocky ground. Photo: Public Domain

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Thank you very much! Happy solstice!

Being Reasonable or Reliable?

Being Reasonable or Reliable?

Editor’s Note: The scientific method is considered the best at explaining natural phenomenon – for good reason. However, science also has limitations.

First, science has a limited scope. It requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt for any explanations to be considered reliable. It can only make predictions based on those explanations. What if there are some real phenomena that cannot be “proven” yet? In that case, what alternative assumptions do we use to make predictions?

Second, (quite contrarily to what most scientists claim) science is not value free. And science cannot be value free, as long as the scientists remain value laden.

The alternative assumptions that science uses to make real life predictions are based on those values of the scientists, and of science as a field of study. Most often than not, these values support the status quo.

There is a reason that climate scientists have repeatedly failed to make reliable predictions about the upcoming ecological collapse. The sooner that scientists accept and acknowledge these (and other) limitations, the better it is for the natural world! The following piece explores some of these issues.

“Science, as it is practiced in our society, is a nearly perfect expression of human supremacy. It’s all for us (humans); it’s all about us.”  – Tom Murphy


By Brian Lloyd / Resilience

Scientists have been in the news of late fretting that their projections about the onset of disasters caused by a warming climate may have been off the mark.
It appears that Mother Nature has pushed the “fast forward” button and we are all paddling, choking, and sizzling much sooner than sober science had led us to expect. We will be hard-pressed to devise a plan of action commensurate with the trouble we are in if we come at that task wielding flawed assumptions.
Events cannot speak of their own accord but if they could recent ones would surely be telling us that any forecasts based on conditions prevailing even until yesterday are not worth much. We have entered a new phase in the life of our planet and, by all appearances, do not have a clue about what that circumstance demands of us as inhabitants.
I am not a scientist, but I did recently encounter a related case of cluelessness that I thought I might try to diagnose. Writing in The New Yorker (07/24/2023), Louis Menand pauses at the end of an essay on the rise and fall of neoliberalism to take stock of its achievements and failings. On the positive side, he claims that globalization has lifted a billion people out of poverty, lowered the cost of many household items, turned formerly marginal nations into “economic players,” and broken the monopoly held by First World powers on modern technology. On the debit side, he notes a deepening “trend towards monopoly” in every major industry and a disturbing increase in inequality. This latter, he believes, fouls the workings of democracy and thus poses a threat to civic order.
Menand is not a hack. He is a diligent researcher, a thoughtful cultural observer, and a gifted stylist whose books are read and discussed within and beyond the academy. The reader who consults any of his books and essays for insight into American history or contemporary politics will find much of substance to chew on. Yet his summary assessment of the ideas that have been dominant in official circles for the last four decades lags even farther behind the visible course of events than the too-cautious calculations of the climate scientists. Perhaps he and the scientists have inherited the same conceptual defect.
Suppose that Shell Oil hires several dozen young Nigerians to help protect its facilities from any local villagers who might harbor ill will against it for poisoning the land base that once supported an economy of small market fishing and farming. As long as these new hires make more than $2.15/day they would count among the billions being lifted out of poverty by globalization. That is how the World Bank, the source of Menand’s numbers, measures economic progress. The wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems, along with the ways of life that flourished for centuries within them, do not figure in these calculations. The World Bank cannot quantify such things so Menand finds no occasion to discuss them. Overheating oceans and atmospheres, environmental degradation, species extinctions, soil depletion, water scarcity, drought, fire, flooding, crop failures, mass migrations – none of these worrisome developments make their way onto Menand’s ledger, even as all of them were either caused or sharply accelerated by fossil fuel-powered globalization. Progress is happening when people who once farmed and fished for a living get funneled, by whatever means and onto whatever station, into the wage economy. So long as “our” household items stay cheap, we have cause to celebrate. So long as the list of “players” in this game keeps expanding and the technology needed to keep the global machine humming gets spread around a bit, what’s to worry?
As recently as seven or eight years ago I might have nodded along with Menand’s assessment of neoliberalism. It is reasonably argued by the standards I then used to measure what it was reasonable to consider when exploring such a topic. Now, such arguments provoke the kind of irritation we feel when someone adopts an attitude of command after, in plain view, missing the boat entirely. What happened?Two things. First, there is the news. The polycrisis, as many are calling it, has unsettled my preferred means of making sense of the world. Procedures that once seemed soundly empirical suddenly appear woefully constricted. Facts that once grounded the kinds of arguments I deemed credible were dwarfed by realities that no one seemed willing or able to treat as facts of relevance to what was going on around me. Second, my realization that I have been poorly served by the analytic tools I knew how to use inspired me to search for replacements in places that I would have not thought to visit before. I read books on animal intelligence and plant communication. David Abram’s books shattered the foundations of my philosophical outlook, creating cracks for wilder, less head-heavy insights to grow. I stopped feeling sheepish about nodding in agreement with Derrick Jensen and Paul Kingsnorth. My growing suspicions about the serviceability of Western science opened me up to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s respectful humbling of it and to the value generally of indigenous modes of understanding. I read nearly everything written by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder.
I am most likely a pagan now, if by that term we mean someone who believes it was a really bad idea to drain all of the spirit out of the natural world and invest it in a single, vengeful sky god whom we must propitiate in a manner prescribed by one pleasure-phobic priesthood or another. I am not an atheist because when I am hiking alone under old trees or watching seabirds in flight I frequently feel myself drawn into a force field of enchantment where words fail and the mind stalls. I believe it is historically warranted to call that field “sacred” and, if we are to undo the damage done by those who believe otherwise, strategically necessary.
From where I sit now, it seems clear that Menand and the climate scientists were betrayed by a desire to appear reasonable. In the gap between their conclusions and the horizon where the hard edge of reality now cuts we can measure the obsolescence of Reason as it has been conceived in the West for the last four centuries. Events quite near at hand are making it increasingly difficult to dismiss, as “external” factors or “secondary qualities” irrelevant to any disciplined act of understanding, whatever cannot be abstracted, reduced, and counted. It is no longer reasonable, in particular, to abstract humans from the natural world, reduce them to self-aggrandizing egos, and then feed their doings alone into our computations. Social systems are embedded in ecosystems, humans are enmeshed in webs of interdependence with the other-than-human.
Analyses, social or natural scientific, that remain indifferent to these insights are rapidly becoming unreliable, and visibly so, as descriptions of the real world. As empirical backing for moral arguments or policy decisions, these analyses are serviceable only to those who have a stake in keeping the blinders firmly secured.
Menand’s analysis of neoliberalism, for example, is all numbers and people. For him, being reasonable means taking such facts as can be configured mathematically and assembling a balanced account of them. All the thirsting, wheezing, and keeling over in the street, the struggling for food and safety now being experienced by millions of people worldwide, the winking out of species – these consequences of neoliberal globalization are unmistakably real but somehow inadmissible as evidence. Menand is no doubt aware of them – who couldn’t be? – but he is constrained from factoring them in by his manner of being a reasonable intellectual. The balance he achieves by adding some downsides to a World Bank success narrative comes only after leaving the weightiest items off the scales. If the people being lifted out of poverty are at the same time, and by action of the same press of circumstances, being lowered into their graves, that is probably a fact worth noting.The scientists are well aware of ecosystems and non-humans. But they too are duty-bound to appear reasonable. The manner in which they do so affirms the foresight of those who etched into the founding tablets of modern science a commandment never to mix facts and values. In private, climate scientists confess to being scared shitless by what their most trustworthy empirical projections suggest is awaiting us just around the bend (for this side of the story, see the interview with climate scientist Bill McGuire in the 07/30/2022 Guardian). When facing the public, professional etiquette requires that they adopt a “just the facts, ma’am” demeanor. Those few who violate that code and speak their fears as responsible moral actors are chastised in the media and, often, in the academic journals for tarnishing the hallowed objectivity of science.
The facts do speak, but from beneath such a thick overlay of well-mannered reasonableness that only the scientists themselves can catch their true import. With rare exception, they are not sharing with us what those facts say to them. This institutionalized cautiousness infects their sense of what we should consider normal and of how – at what rate, along which dimensions – we should expect things to deviate from that norm in the future. Their fears find no purchase in such calculations, surfacing only over drinks or in bed after the work of science is done.I recently sat in on a conference panel where two well-informed observers traded speculations about what the future might hold. The social scientist had authored a book which, it was argued, had influenced some of the thinking and language in the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act. Her vision of the future teems with solar panels, batteries on wheels, and windmills – our tickets, if we would just invest in them, to “sustainability.” The other panelist, a science fiction writer who had woven climate change into the plotline of a best-selling novel, seconded her enthusiasm for all-out electrification. An audience member wondered what we should make of the same administration’s approval of the Willow project in Alaska and its decision to remove any legal barriers local residents had been using, out of desperation, to obstruct completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Appalachia. The science fiction writer argued that just because the drilling infrastructure is built, we shouldn’t assume any oil will actually be pumped out of the ground and burned. Perhaps there is a deeper, strategic logic to the approval of Willow. Sensing perhaps the astonishment that lit up some faces in my vicinity at least, he then informed us that there are some amazing young people working on energy policy in the Biden Administration. I doubt that I was alone in my inability to find this reassuring, but it seemed to do the job for the panelists. They then went on the offensive, invoking “the narcissism of small differences” as a way to understand the complaints of those who do not share either their confidence that right-thinking young people will be shaping policy from lowly positions in the Department of Energy or their faith in the wisdom of the “electrify everything’ agenda altogether. Skeptics, apparently, will have to pay for some therapy before that wisdom can sink in.That exchange gives us a glimpse into how most progressives and environmentalists are now drawing the line between reasonable and unreasonable in the matter of new drilling projects and pipelines. Another glimpse was provided by a keynote speaker at the same conference. Billed as a “visionary green entrepreneur,” he floated point-clinching charts and breezy rhetoric above the stage to ornament a case for full tilt electrification. He was favorably received.This speaker handled in three ways the argument that all the mining, manufacturing, and transport required to affect a transition to green energy would have an environmental impact as devastating as the fossil fuel economy has had. At the outset of his talk, he said with mock exasperation that “yes, we are going to have to dig some holes in the ground.” Like the anti-narcissists, he claimed the real world as his domain and chided the mass electrification skeptics for their refusal to live in it.

A bit later he flashed a chart with different sized circles designed to contrast the amount of coal, gas, and oil we now use to power our economy with the amount of what he called “transition metals” (most prominently lithium, cobalt, and nickel, along with aluminum and steel at the end of the list) that would be consumed in a green economy. The circles for the fossil fuels (figures were from 2019) were huge, as one might expect, visually dominating the chart. There were two circles for the transition metals, both quite puny by comparison, which was the point of the graphic. The first represented the amount of these metals consumed in 2020, its puniness attributable to the fact that the transition had only begun. The second circle represented the same variable for 2050 – a projection based on what somebody had calculated all this might amount to at the end of the transition.

His third tactic for handling the skepticism he knew to be festering in audiences like this was to pin it all on the fossil fuel companies. Like the cigarette makers of yore, the bad guys in this story were muddying the waters so they could keep their product burning at full volume into the future. The implication seemed to be that if you were experiencing any of this skepticism you were being duped by industry propaganda. It was not reason but partisan skullduggery that was prompting your misgivings about the green energy script.

Call me a narcissist if you must, but my misgivings arose from my own reading around in these issues and they were not being quelled by this presentation. I balked at the size of the 2050 circle – is it really possible to calculate, from where we sit now, all the materials a fully green economy would consume? Given the scale of this construction project and the unknowns sure to crop up along the way, an estimate made a quarter century before completion is bound to be an underestimation – most likely a sizable one. And were these calculations inflected in any way by a partisanship, opposed to that of the fossil fuel propagandists but in play nonetheless, that I should worry about? Early in the presentation the speaker had flashed a chart showing that “total energy-related CO2 emissions” had peaked and were trending steadily downward. He urged the audience to take pride in what had been accomplished and cautioned that we not grow complacent, as if the hard work of transition might be behind us. That was puzzling. If one consults any available graph for total CO2 emissions, one will discover that they continue to trend upwards. This fact has been widely reported and causes much consternation among those alarmed by climate change. I do not know what had to be excluded from consideration to get the downward-trending graph – i.e., exactly how “total energy-related CO2 emissions” differs from “total CO2 emissions” – but it was apparent that the speaker had selected the celebratory numbers so we might feel that we were on the right road and just needed to do more of what we were already doing in the way of sustainability to get things fully under control. The maneuver called to mind the factors Menand left out of his review of neoliberalism and, for me, drained the last bit of credibility out of the teeny 2050 “transition metals” circle.

The costs of digging some holes in the ground become more tangible if we visit a place where that is already underway. A New York Times correspondent recently (08/18/2023) filed a report on a Chinese mining facility in Indonesia, which has some of the world’s largest deposits of nickel. Chinese investors wanted to mine and smelt this critical “transition metal” (needed in batteries for electric vehicles) offshore so the operation would not add to the already poor air quality of most Chinese cities. The project proved a boon for local merchants who service the thousands of workers drawn to the site but every other impact was devastating. An aerial photograph of the site looks eerily like those taken of the Athabascan tar sands in western Canada – a lunar landscape of total ecological destruction. Pools of toxic waste nestle up against farmland. Those who make their living from agriculture – who, in the reporter’s phrase, “coaxed crops from the soil,” as if they were the ones out of synch with nature here – voiced sharp opposition to the project, as one would expect. Locals don masks on bad days; health clinics are full of people reporting lung ailments. Hours at the smelter are long, working conditions are horrendous, deadly accidents are commonplace. Non-native workers often find that their visas have been confiscated; a disturbing number choose suicide as their only avenue of escape. They wear helmets that signal by color their rank in the job hierarchy – yellow for those on the bottom, red, blue, and white for the workers and supervisors tiered by category above them. Nearly all the yellow helmets are worn by Indonesians, the rest by Chinese. The immigrant Chinese are sometimes prohibited from leaving the vicinity of their barracks lest the mere sight of them fan the animosity of native Indonesians into violence. Protests against the pollution and the caste labor system have been brutally suppressed by police and, when necessary, Indonesian army units.

Conditions such as these were not represented in the green visionary’s cost-of-transition circles. The mathematical representations diverted our attention from such realities as could be observed by the naked eye and invested our hopes in the very development – a growing “green economy” – that brought those conditions into being. This maneuver transported the discussion to a place beyond the reach of moral judgment. Anything that might provoke outrage – what most of us feel when we read about such things – had to be excluded so that the work of empirical calculation could proceed unsullied by any outpouring of empathy. Beyond that, these are just some holes in the ground. Rabbits and groundhogs, whom we tolerate, dig them too.

Also visible at the site, but buried within his math, were the energy sources that undermine the green visionary’s “we’ve bent the curve, people” cheeriness. Along with millions of tons of mined nickel spilled across the Sulawesi landscape, the reporter observed a “structure the size of several airplane hangars [holding] mountains of coal waiting to be fed into the park’s power plant to generate electricity.” Of course he did. All the major components of the “green economy” – windmills, photovoltaic cells, EV batteries – require fossil fuels for their production.

China licenses two new coal-fired electricity-generating plants a week to power its manufacturing facilities, including the ones that make those components. That is why CO2 emissions continue to rise with the numbers for renewable energy usage. As the fossil fuel companies are well aware, it is an integrated system. The economy envisioned by “green growth” enthusiasts, with its carbon capture scams and electrify everything fantasies, gives those companies a new lease on life. If they are to be put down, it will be by other means.

The reporter placed Jamal, a construction worker hired to build dormitories to accommodate the influx of smelter workers, at the center of his story. He had boosted his income by building a few rental units of his own and used that money to put tile on his floors and an air conditioner in his house. The “crux” of the matter, which the reporter derived from Jamal’s situation, was the trade-off Indonesians seemed willing to accept – “pollution and social strife for social mobility.” As Jamal put it, “the air is not good but we have better living standards.”

That does get us to the heart of things, although not in the way Jamal or the reporter imagines.

Notice that air quality is not perceived to be a component of living standards. The ecological and economic values are segregated, calculated separately, and then thrown on the scales to achieve the unhappy balance that marks the arrival of a reasonable conclusion. It mimics exactly Menand’s analysis of neoliberalism and every other account you will find online about nickel mining in Indonesia or, indeed, the mining and manufacture of anything needed for the “green transition.” The script is classically tragic – a lamentable situation unfolds that people, the reasonable ones at least, must accept as their share of a fated outcome.

So we look away from the holes in the ground and carry on, sadder perhaps but wiser. We collect data and mind our business. We add well-trained voices to those tasked with prettifying an administration which is building out the infrastructure for fossil fuel production faster and bigger than anybody. We applaud glitzy, upbeat presentations that assure us we can keep the consumer extravaganza going with batteries and solar panels. Nothing seems to shake our faith in the righteousness of that extravaganza, even as we are beset at every turn, in our communities and our homes, by despair and unhappiness.

There are plenty of bad actors in this story but rest assured that I am not placing anyone I have refenced here in that category. The explanations and projections of these observers fall short, as I see it, because they are coming at things with a stock of assumptions that is being depleted along with everything else. The intellectual climate, too, has grown chaotic. More precisely, a fissure has opened up between two ways of being reasonable. The old one, in place since the scientific revolution and on display in the arguments I have reviewed, is showing itself to be inadequate to the challenges – to reliable comprehension and sensible conduct – we now face. But a new one has arisen to supplant it. Those who nudged me in a new direction are not monks scribbling away in a monastery but writers with large readerships (Braiding Sweetgrass stayed on the NYT best seller list for over two years). The commitments that bind them as a group – to holism rather than dualism; to ecological rather than reductionist approaches to the natural world; to beauty and mutuality as defining features of that world and the need to take both into account when engaging with it for any purpose; to the worth and significance of every being, not just the humans, on the scene; to the value of being rooted in a particular place if we are to live free, well, and wisely – are shared as well by the millions of ordinary folks worldwide who have never been pried loose from these commitments in the first place. Further, those aspiring to be reasonable in this way exhibit remarkable diversity in political and religious beliefs. Among them you can find reactionaries and radicals, Christians and Buddhists, animists and atheists. Established methods for sorting out and evaluating political options and spiritual possibilities, like the old way of being scientific, have been compromised by serious weather damage. They are not worthy of repair. A new mass constituency for fundamental change – the new way of reasoning made flesh – is visible amidst the blight and the rot. No member of this constituency would find it reasonable to trade clean air for cheap household items, health and justice for toys and gadgets.

Here is real cause for optimism. Here is a transition sure to reward the hopes we place in it. The change in consciousness that must happen if we are to live within the planetary limits we have so foolishly imagined we could ignore is underway. Too slowly, and as yet on too small a terrain, but it is underway.

How to Beat the Fracking Frenzy

How to Beat the Fracking Frenzy

Editor’s Note: The successful Irish struggle against fracking by multi-national gas company Tamboran offers key insights on community power building for anti-extraction movements across the world.
The Australian corporation paints its international natural gas projects as ‘green’ with words like “Net Zero CO2 Energy Transition”. But people in the Beetaloo Basin in Australia and Leitrim in Ireland don’t fall for their lies.

Read about how local people, farmers, fishers and artists – deeply intertwined with their land – unite to fight for what they hold dear: rivers and streams, peat lands and hills, villages and work on the land.

Resistance movements of the past, both successful and unsuccessful, are a good lesson in organizing and strategy. DGR supports resistance against renewable energies as well, but as we see, the struggle against fossil fuels continues in every country.


By Jamie Gorman/Waging Nonviolence

Australian resistance

The reality of the climate crisis makes it clear that we must leave the “oil in the soil” and the “gas under the grass,” as the Oilwatch International slogan goes. The fossil fuel industry knew this before anyone else. Yet the industry continues to seek new extractive frontiers on all continents in what has been labeled a “fracking frenzy” by campaigners.

In Australia, unconventional fossil gas exploration has been on the rise over the last two decades. Coal seam gas wells have been in production since 2013, while community resistance has so far prevented the threat of shale gas fracking. The climate crisis and state commitments under the Paris Agreement means that the window for exploration is closing. But the Australian economy remains hooked on fossil fuels and the industry claims that fossil gas is essential for economic recovery from COVID, “green growth” and meeting net-zero targets.

The Northern Territory, or NT, government is particularly eager to exploit its fossil fuel reserves and wants to open up extraction in the Beetaloo Basin as part of its gas strategy. The NT recently announced a $1.32 billion fossil fuel subsidy for gas infrastructure project Middle Arm and greenlighted the drilling of 12 wells by fracking company Tamboran Resources as a first step towards full production.

Beetaloo Basin community struggle

Gas exploration is inherently speculative with high risks. The threat of reputational damage is high enough that large blue chip energy companies like Origin Energy — a major player in the Australian energy market — are turning away from shale. This leaves the field to smaller players who are willing to take a gamble in search of a quick buck. This is precisely how Tamboran came to prominence in Australia. After buying out Origin Energy in September 2022, Tamboran is now the biggest player in the Northern Territory’s drive to drill.

NT anti-fracking campaigner Hannah Ekin described this point as “a really key moment in the campaign to stop fracking in the Beetaloo basin.”

For over a decade, “Traditional Owners, pastoralists and the broader community have held the industry at bay, but we are now staring down the possibility of full production licenses being issued in the near future.”

Despite this threat, Tamboran has been stopped before. In 2017, community activists in Ireland mobilized a grassroots movement that forced the state to revoke Tamboran’s license and ban fracking. Although the context may be different, this successful Irish campaign has many key insights to offer those on the frontlines of resistance in Australia — as well as the wider anti-extraction movements all over the world.

Fracking comes to Ireland

In February 2011, Tamboran was awarded an exploratory license in Ireland — without public knowledge or consent. They planned to exploit the shale gas of the northwest carboniferous basin and set their sights on county Leitrim. The county is a beautiful, mountainous place, with small communities nestled in valleys carved by glaciers in the last ice age.

The landscape is watery: peat bogs, marshes and gushing rivers are replenished by near daily downpours as Atlantic coast weather fronts meet Ireland’s western seaboard. Farming families go back generations on land that can be difficult to cultivate. Out of this land spring vibrant and creative communities, despite — or perhaps because of — the challenges of being on the margins and politically peripheral.

The affected communities first realized Tamboran’s plans when the company began a PR exercise touting jobs and economic development. In seeking to understand what they faced, people turned to other communities experiencing similar issues. A mobile cinema toured the glens of Leitrim showing Josh Fox’s documentary “Gasland.” After the film there were Q&As with folks from another Irish community, those resisting a Shell pipeline and gas refinery project at Rossport. Out of these early exchanges, an anti-fracking movement comprised of many groups and individuals emerged. One in particular — Love Leitrim, or LL, which formed in late 2011 — underscored the importance of a grassroots community response.

Resisting fracking by celebrating the positives about Leitrim life was a conscious strategic decision and became the group’s hallmark.

In LL’s constitution, campaigners asserted that Leitrim is “a vibrant, creative, inclusive and diverse community,” challenging the underlying assumptions of the fracking project that Leitrim was a marginal place worth sacrificing for gas. The group developed a twin strategy of local organizing — which rooted them in the community — and political campaigning, which enabled them to reach from the margins to the center of Irish politics.

This combination of “rooting” and “reaching” was crucial to the campaign’s success.

5 key rooting strategies

The first step towards defeating Tamboran in Ireland was building a movement rooted in the local community. Out of this experience, five key “rooting strategies” for local organizing emerged — showing how the resistance developed a strong social license and built community power.

1. Build from and on relationships

Good relationships were essential to building trust in LL’s campaign. Who was involved — and who was seen to be involved — were crucial for rooting the campaign in the community. Local people were far more likely to trust and accept information that was provided by those they knew, and getting the public support of local farmers, fishers and well-known people was crucial. Building on existing relationships and social bonds, LL became deeply rooted in local life in a way that provided a powerful social license and a strongly-rooted base to enable resistance to fracking.

2. Foster ‘two-way’ community engagement

LL engaged the community with its campaign and, at the same time, actively participated as volunteers in community events. This two-way community engagement built trust and networked the campaign in the community. LL actively participated in local events such as markets, fairs and the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which offered creative ways to boost their visibility. At the same time, LL also volunteered to support events run by other community groups, from fun-runs to bake sales. According to LL member Heather (who, along with others in this article, is quoted on the condition of anonymity), this strategy was essential to “building up trust … between the group, its name and what it wants, and the community.”

3. Celebrate community

In line with its vision, LL celebrated and fostered community in many ways. This was typified by its organizing of a street feast world café event during a 2017 community festival that saw people come together over a meal to discuss their visions of Leitrim now and for their children. LL members also supported local renewable energy and ecotourism projects that advanced alternative visions of development. Celebrating and strengthening the community in this way challenged the fundamental assumptions of the fracking project — a politics of disposability which assumed that Leitrim could be sacrificed to fuel the extractivist economy.

4. Connect to culture

Campaigners saw culture as a medium for catalyzing conversations and connecting with popular folk wisdom. LL worked with musicians, artists and local celebrities in order to relate fracking to popular cultural and historical narratives that resonated with communities through folk music and cultural events. This was particularly important in 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, which ultimately led to Irish independence from the British Empire. Making those connections tapped into radical strands of the popular imagination. Drawing on critical counter-narratives in creative ways overcame the potential for falling into negative activist stereotypes. Through culture, campaigners could present new or alternative stories, experiences or ideas in a way that evocatively connected with people.

5. Build networks of solidarity

Reaching out to other frontline communities was a powerful and evocative way to raise awareness of fracking and extractivism from people who had experienced them first-hand.

As local campaigner Bernie explained, “When someone comes, it’s on a human level people can appreciate and understand. When they tell their personal story, that makes a difference.”

Perhaps the most significant guest speaker was Canadian activist Jessica Ernst, whose February 2012 presentation to a packed meeting in the Rainbow ballroom was described by many campaigners as a key moment in the campaign. Ernst is a former gas industry engineer who found herself battling the fracking industry on her own land. She told her personal story, the power of which was heightened by her own industry insider credentials and social capital as a landowner. Reflecting on the event, LL member Triona remembered looking around the room and seeing “all the farmers, the landowners, who are the important people to have there — and people were really listening.”

4 key reaching strategies against fracking

With a strong social license and empowered network of activists, the next step for the anti-fracking movement was to identify how to make their voices heard and influence public policy. This required reaching beyond the local community scale to engage in national political decision making around fracking. Four key strategies enabled campaigners to successfully jump scales and secure a national fracking ban.

1. Find strategic framings

Tamboran sought to frame the public conversation on narrow technical issues surrounding single drilling sites, pipelines and infrastructure, obscuring the full impact of the thousands of planned wells.

As LL campaigner Robert pointed out, this “project-splitting” approach “isn’t safe for communities, but it’s easier for the industry because they’re getting into a position where they’re unstoppable.”

Addressing the impact of the entire project at a policy level became a key concern for campaigners. LL needed framings that would carry weight with decision makers, regulators and the media.

Listening and dialogue in communities helped campaigners to understand and root the campaign in local concerns. From this, public health and democracy emerged as frames that resonated locally, while also carrying currency nationally.

The public health frame mobilized a wide base of opposition. Yet it was not a consideration in the initial Irish Environmental Protection Agency research to devise a regulatory framework for fracking. LL mobilized a campaign that established public health as a key test of the public’s trust in the study’s legitimacy. The EPA conceded and amended the study’s terms of reference to include public health. This enabled campaigners to draw on emerging health impact research from North American fracking sites, providing evidence that would have “cache with the politicians,” as LL member Alison put it. Working alongside campaigners from New York, LL established the advocacy group Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland, or CHPI, mirroring a similar, highly effective New York group. CHPI was crucial to highlighting the public health case for a ban on fracking and shaping the media and political debate.

2. Demonstrate resistance

Having rooted the campaign in local community life, LL catalyzed key groups like farmers and fishers to mobilize their bases. Farmers in LL worked within their social networks to organize a tractorcade. “It was all word of mouth … knocking on doors and phone calls,” said Fergus, the lead organizer for the event. Such demonstrations were “a show of solidarity with the farmers who are the landowners,” Triona recalled. They were also aimed at forcing the farmer’s union to take a public position on fracking. The event demonstrated to local farmers union leaders that their members were opposed to fracking, encouraging them to break their silence on the issue.

Collective action also enforced a bottom line of resistance to the industry. Tamboran made one attempt to drill a test well in 2014. Community mobilization prevented equipment getting to the site for a week while a legal battle over a lack of an environmental impact assessment was fought and won. Reflecting on this success, Robert suggested that communities can be nodes of resistance to “fundamental, large problems that aren’t that easy to solve” because “one of the things small communities can do is simply say no.”

And when frontline communities are networked, then “every time a community resists, it empowers another community to resist.”

3. Engage politicians before regulators

In 2013, when Tamboran was renewing its license, campaigners found that there was no public consultation mechanism. Despite this, LL organized an “Application Not to Frack.” This was printed in a local newspaper, and the public was encouraged to cut it out and sign it. This grassroots counter-application carried no weight with regulators, but with an emphasis on rights and democracy, it sent a strong signal to politicians.

Submitting their counter application, LL issued a press release: Throughout this process people have been forgotten about. We want to put people back into the center of decision making … We are asking the Irish government: Are you with your people or not?

At a time when public sentiment was disillusioned with the political establishment in the aftermath of the 2011 financial crisis, LL tapped into this sentiment to discursively jump from the scale of a localized place-based struggle to one that was emblematic of wider democratic discontents and of national importance.

Frontline environmental justice campaigns often experience procedural injustices when navigating governance structures that privilege scientific/technical expertise. Rather than attempt an asymmetrical engagement with regulators, LL forced public debate in the political arena. In that space, they were electors holding politicians to account rather than lay-people with insufficient scientific knowledge to contribute to the policy making process.

The group used a variety of creative tactics and strategic advocacy to engage local politicians. This approach — backed up by a strongly rooted base — led to unanimous support for a ban from politicians in the license area. In the 2016 election, the only pro-fracking candidate failed to win a seat. Local democratic will was clear. Campaigners set their sights on parliament and a national fracking ban.

4. Focus on the parliament

The lack of any public consultation before exploration commenced led campaigners to fear that decisions would continue to be made without public scrutiny. LL built strategic relationships with politicians across the political spectrum with the aim of forcing accountability in the regulatory system. A major obstacle to legislation was the ongoing EPA study, which was to inform government decisions on future licensing. But it emerged that CDM Smith, a vocally pro-fracking engineering firm, had been contracted for much of the work. The study was likely to set a roadmap to frack.
Campaigners had two tasks: to politically discredit the EPA study and work towards a fracking ban.

They identified the different roles politicians across the political spectrum — and between government and opposition — could strategically play in the parliamentary process.

While continuing a public campaign, the group engaged in intensive advocacy efforts, working with supportive parliamentarians to host briefings where community members addressed lawmakers, submitted parliamentary questions to the minister, used their party’s speaking time to address the issue, raised issues at parliamentary committee hearings, and proposed motions and legislative bills.

While the politicians were also not environmental experts, their position as elected representatives meant that regulators were accountable to them. Political pressure thus led to the shelving of the compromised EPA study and paved the way for a ban. Several bills had been tabled.

By chance, the one that was first scheduled for debate was from a Leitrim politician whose bill was backed by campaigners as the most watertight. With one final push from campaigners, it secured support from lawmakers across parties and a government motion to block it was fought off.

In November 2017, six years after Tamboran arrived in Leitrim, fracking was finally banned in Ireland. It was a win for people power and democracy.

Building a bridge to the Beetaloo and beyond

Pacifist-anarchist folk singer Utah Phillips described folk songs as “bridges” between past struggles and the listener’s present. Bridges enable the sharing of knowledge and critical understanding across time and distances. Similarly, stories of struggle act as a bridge, between the world of the reader and the world of the story, sharing wisdom, and practical and ethical knowledge. The story of successful Irish resistance to Tamboran is grounded in a particular political moment and a particular cultural context. The political and cultural context faced by Australian campaigners is very different. Yet there are certainly insights that can bridge the gap between Ireland and Australia.

The Irish campaign shows us how crucial relationships and strongly rooted community networks can be when people mobilize.

In the NT, campaigners have similarly sought to build alliances across the territory and between traditional Indigenous owners and pastoralists. This is crucial, suggests NT anti-fracking campaigner Hannah Ekin, because “the population affected by fracking in the NT is very diverse, and different communities often have conflicting interests, values and lifestyles.”

LL’s campaign demonstrates the importance of campaign framings reflective of local contexts and concerns. While public health was a unifying frame in Ireland, Ekin notes that the protection of water has become “a real motivator” and a rallying cry that “unites people across the region” because “if we over-extract or contaminate the groundwater we rely on, we are jeopardizing our capacity to continue living here.”

The Beetaloo is a sacred site for First Nations communities, with sacred song lines connected to the waterways. “We have to maintain the health of the waterways,” stressed Mudburra elder Raymond Dimikarri Dixon. “That water is alive through the song line. If that water isn’t there the songlines will die too.”

In scaling up from local organizing to national campaigning, the Irish campaign demonstrated the importance of challenging project splitting and engaging the political system to avoid being silenced by the technicalities of the regulatory process. In the NT, the government is advancing the infrastructure to drill, transport and process fracked gas. This onslaught puts enormous pressure on campaigners. “It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Ekin noted. “We are constantly on the back foot trying to stop each individual application for a few wells here, a few wells there, as the industry entrenches itself as inevitable.”

In December 2022, Environment Minister Lauren Moss approved a plan by Tamboran Resources to frack 12 wells in the Beetaloo as they move towards full production. But campaigners are determined to stop them: the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance, or CAFFA, is taking the minister to court for failing to address the cumulative impacts of the project as a whole. By launching this case CAFFA wants to shift the conversation to the bigger issue of challenging a full scale fracking industry in the NT. As Ekin explained, “We want to make the government listen to the community, who for over a decade now have been saying that fracking is not safe, not trusted, not wanted in the territory.”


 

Why Are We Not Talking About Ecological Overshoot?

Why Are We Not Talking About Ecological Overshoot?

Editor’s Note: We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. Something that should be a part of common sense is somehow lost in meaning among policymakers. In this piece, Elisabeth Robson explains the concept of overshoot to explain just that. She also delves into how the major policy makers have ignored it in favor of focusing on climate change and proposing “solutions” of renewable energy. Finally, she ends with three presentations on the same topic.


By Elisabeth Robson / Medium
overshoot
Ecological Overshoot

Bill Rees spent a good part of his career developing a tool called the ecological footprint analysis — a measurement of our collective footprint in terms of the natural resources humans use each year and the waste products we put back into the environment. His analysis showed that humanity is well into overshoot — meaning, we are using far more resources than can be regenerated by Earth, and producing far more waste than the Earth can assimilate.

Overshoot is like having a checking account and a savings account and using not only all the money in our checking account each year, but also drawing down our savings account. Everyone knows if we spend down our savings account, eventually we’ll run out of money. In ecological terms, eventually we’ll run out of easily-extractable resources and do so much damage from the pollution we’ve created, life-as-we-know-it will cease to exist.

I don’t like using the word “resources” to describe the natural world, but it is a handy word to describe all the stuff we humans use from the natural world to keep ourselves alive and to maintain industrial civilization: whether that’s oil, trees, water, broccoli, cows, lithium, phosphorus, or the countless other materials and living beings we kill, extract, process, refine, and consume to get through each and every day and keep the global economy humming. Please know that I wince each time I write “resources” to represent living beings, ecosystems, and natural communities.

Whatever we call the stuff that fuels 8+ billion humans and the great big hungry beast that is industrial civilization, Bill’s analysis estimates our collective ecological footprint is currently running at about 1.75 Earth’s worth of it. Of course that use is unevenly distributed; as a North American, I am ashamed to say that I and my many neighbors on this continent have an ecological footprint 15–20 times bigger than the Earth could sustain if everyone lived like us. Many people on Earth still have ecological footprints far below what the Earth could sustain if everyone lived like them, so it all averages out to 1.75 Earths.

But wait! you might be saying; how can we be using more than one Earth’s worth of resources? Because we are drawing down those resources, like drawing down our savings account. Each year less is regenerated — fewer salmon and fewer trees for instance —  more materials are gone forever, more toxic waste is polluting the environment. Eventually the savings account will be empty, and that’s when life-as-we-know-it ends for good.

A companion yardstick for measuring human overshoot of Earth’s carrying capacity is the planetary boundaries framework. This framework identifies nine processes that are critical for maintaining the stability and resilience of the Earth system as a whole. The framework tracks by how much we’ve transgressed beyond a safe operating space for the nine processes: climate change, biosphere integrity, land system change, freshwater change, biogeochemical flows, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading, stratospheric ozone depletion, and novel entities such as micro plastics, endocrine disruptors, and organic pollutants.

Planetary Boundaries Framework, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, and of those, five are in the high risk zone. By far the boundary we’ve transgressed furthest is biosphere integrity — much more so than climate change. This is perhaps not surprising given that humans and our livestock make up 96% of the weight of land mammals and wildlife a mere 4%, and that the accumulated weight of all human stuff on the planet now weighs more than all living beings — flora and fauna combined — on Earth.

I’m writing this as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) 28 is wrapping up in Dubai, UAE. There was a lot of talk about climate change and fossil fuels — mostly whether we will “phase down” or “phase out” our use of fossil fuels — and about so-called “renewables.” The conference ended with a global goal to “triple renewables and double energy efficiency.”

“We acted, we delivered,” claimed COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, as if building more industrial technologies, like wind turbines and solar panels, and making more energy efficient buildings and cars will somehow restore biosphere integrity; unpollute the water, land and air; regrow all the old-growth forests; unpave the wetlands; and reverse the 1000x-faster-than-normal rate we exterminating species on Earth.

The global focus on climate change, cemented by almost 30 years of UNFCCC conferences, has blinded the world to our true predicament — that is, ecological overshoot — of which climate change is just one of many symptoms. Organizations, governments, corporations, the media are all talking and talking about climate change and the supposed “solutions” of renewables and energy efficiency, while essentially ignoring the ongoing destruction of the natural world. I sometimes imagine them sitting around the large conference tables at the COP with their fingers in their ears singing la-la-la-la-la so as to tune out the natural world as she begs for mercy while they plan “green growth” and scheme to make sure none of the agreements will put a dent in any of their bank accounts.

Likewise, local governments, including the one where I live, are also entirely focused on climate change. Recent meetings, reports, policies, and plans in the county where I live reflect the carbon tunnel vision that is legislated from on high, including state laws mandating net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and “clean electricity” by 2045, and enforcing a market-based program to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

These state laws and others, as well as federal incentives such as the Infrastructure Law of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, put the focus squarely on carbon emissions. No other symptom of ecological overshoot has such clear cut, goal-oriented legislation as carbon emissions.

Carbon tunnel vision

Carbon tunnel vision means other problems get short shrift. And the “solutions” that corporations are selling us in order to meet the goals set by federal and state law will actually make many of the other symptoms of ecological overshoot worse. Far worse.

Imagine the hockey-stick shaped graph of growth over the past 250 years or so. It doesn’t really matter what growth you’re measuring — population, the economy, average income, fertilizer use, nitrogen runoff, copper extraction— that graph is going steeply up.

The Great Acceleration

My county’s planning documents assume that growth line will continue going up. Everywhere’s planning documents assume the same — that the economy, population, extraction, development, and consumption will continue growing. Indeed, an economy based on debt requires it for life-as-we-know-it to continue.

But this is simply not possible on a finite planet with finite resources and ecosystems already shattering under pressure. Basic laws of ecology tell us that when a species overshoots the regenerative capacity of its environment, that species will collapse. This is true for humans too. Our city, county, state, and federal policies do not reflect this reality in any way. This is shortsighted at best; a catastrophe at worst.

So why are most scientists, organizations, and governments so focused on climate change and carbon emissions? In part, because it’s relatively easy to measure. We’ve been measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958, and many other greenhouse gases almost as long. We can see the average annual parts per million increase every year. It’s much easier to measure CO2 ppm in the atmosphere than it is to count every last frog of a given species, or detect toxic pollutants in ground water, or track the decline of top soil, or do long term studies on the impacts of pesticides and herbicides.

Another answer to that question is that corporations have created technologies and industries they can sell to the world as “solutions” to climate change. These “solutions” allow corporations and the governments they influence to believe we can continue business-as-usual. The pervasive propaganda about these “solutions” allows us regular folk to believe we can continue life-as-we-know-it without having to worry too much because “someone’s doing something about climate change.”

Unlike the “solutions” to climate change that corporations are constantly trying to sell us, there is no profitable technology that will eliminate habitat loss, species extinctions, pollution, and deforestation. And so what we hear from organizations, governments, corporations, and the media is all climate change all the time, because someone’s making bank.

To try to break through the wall of all climate change all the time, I recently hosted a series of events on ecological overshoot. I invited everyone I could think of in my county who might have influence on county policy and planning in hopes of sparking the kinds of broader conversations I wish we were having. Few of those people showed up, perhaps unsurprisingly, so it seems unlikely those conversations will happen.

However, the three presentations — by Bill Rees, Jeremy Jiménez, and Max Wilbert — are excellent and well worth sharing with the broader community of people who are trying their best to start conversations about ecological overshoot.

I hope you enjoy these presentations as much as I did, and have better luck than I have at broaching these topics with people where you live.

Bill Rees

Jeremy Jiménez

Max Wilbert


Elisabeth Robson is an organizer in Deep Green Resistance. She is also actively engaged in the Protect Thacker Pass campaign.