Editor’s Note; The fossil fuel industry is largely responsible for the climate crisis we are in today. The following article highlights the current state of the climate crisis.
While we believe that the fossil fuel industry needs to be stopped, DGR does not believe that “green” energy is going to save the planet. We believe that the green energy industry is just an extension of the ‘traditional” energy industry, running with the same disregard for the natural world.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
You may remember the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, in which large parts of Europe and the American East Coast suddenly freeze up?
The plot device is that the Great Conveyor Belt—also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)—which brings heat from the south Pacific around the southern tip of Africa and up the east coast of the Americas (we call it the Gulf Stream) into the North Atlantic and Europe shuts down.
The AMOC and the heat it brings to the North Atlantic ocean is the main reason why London (at the same latitude as Calgary) has a relatively temperate climate year-round, instead of being snowbound six months out of the year.
It’s why Europe can grow enough food to feed its 740+ million people; if the AMOC was to stop transporting all that heat to the North Atlantic, the continent could be plunged into famine in a matter of years or decades (the movie was heavily dramatized).
The IPCC has warned of this possibility but had placed the danger zone for the failure of the AMOC in the early 22nd century, well past the lifetimes of most people living today. That proclamation moved it off most of our immediate-attention screens.
This adds to a growing body of alarming climate science, like the one published last year in the Journal of Climatetitled “Sixfold Increase in Historical Northern Hemisphere Concurrent Large Heatwaves Driven by Warming and Changing Atmospheric Circulations,” which indicates we’re much farther down the path of dangerous climate change than even most scientists realized.
That study essentially predicted this year’s shocking Northern Hemisphere heat waves (with more and worse to come); the lead researcher’s first name is Cassandra, no doubt an unintentional choice in the paper’s authors’ pecking order, but still.
It brings up the topic of the “Clathrate Gun Hypothesis,” which is the absolute worst case scenario for humanity’s future.
All across the planet there are an estimated 1.4 trillion tons of methane gas frozen into a snowcone-like slurry called clathrates or methane hydrates laying on the sea floor off the various continental shelves.
When they suddenly melt, that’s the “firing of the gun.” An explosion (in the context of geologic time) of atmospheric gas that’s over 70 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. The Clathrate Gun.
The PNAS paper mentioned above concludes that 126,000 years ago there was an event that caused a small amount of these clathrates to warm enough to turn to gas and bubble up out of the seas. The resulting spike in greenhouse gas (methane) led to a major warming event worldwide:
“Our results identify an exceptionally large warming of the equatorial Atlantic intermediate waters and strong evidence of methane release and oxidation almost certainly due to massive methane hydrate destabilization during the early part of the penultimate warm episode (126,000 to 125,000 y ago). This major warming was caused by … a brief episode of meltwater-induced weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and amplified by a warm mean climate.”
The researchers warn we may be looking at a similar event in our time:
“Our results highlight climatic feedback processes associated with the penultimate climate warming that can serve as a paleoanalog for modern ongoing warming.”
As glaciers melt and the oceans warm, they note:
“[M]eltwater-induced AMOC weakening significantly amplifies the warming of intermediate waters and, in turn, destabilizes shallow subsurface methane hydrate deposits.”
In other words, the recent extreme warming of our oceans increases the chances the AMOC Great Conveyor Belt will shut down, throwing Europe into an existential crisis and wilding the rest of the world’s weather. And, most ominously, the AMOC shutting down will speed up the melting of more methane clathrates on the sea floors around the world.
The process is driven by warming of the oceans, which absorb more than 90 percent of the additional global warming heat we’re forcing by burning fossil fuels. As the BBC noted, the past month and first weeks of July “were hotter than any in recorded history” and:
“This week, sea surface temperatures along the coasts of Southern Spain and North Africa were 2-4C (3.6-7.2F) higher than they would normally be at this time of year, with some spots 5C (9F) above the long-term average.”
Ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida this week were in the range that Jacuzzi recommends for their hot tubs: 101 degrees. This has never happened before in human history.
The least likely but most dangerous outcome scenario is that the warming ocean might begin a massive melting of those methane hydrate slurries into gas, producing a “burp” of that greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, further adding to global warming, which would then melt even more of the clathrates.
It would be a deadly “positive feedback system,” with each phase of warming setting up the next and worse one. The Clathrate Gun.
At the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, this runaway process is apparently what happened when a spike in methane led to such a violent warming of the planet that it killed over 90 percent of all life in the oceans and 70 percent of all life on land, paving the way for the rise of the dinosaurs, as cold-blooded lizards were among the few survivors.
That period is referred to as the Permian Mass Extinction, or, simply, “The Great Dying.” It was the most destructive mass extinction event in the history of our planet.
The “clathrate gun hypothesis” is controversial, but there’s a large body of evidence for it having done the damage at the end of the Permian, as we note in that video.
While it’s the least likely but most dramatic outcome of today’s global warming, it’s worth heeding the warning: by pouring over thirty billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year we have stirred a beast that could—if we don’t take serious action soon—spell the doom of human civilization, if not humanity itself.
“The key findings of our study add to a growing body of observational findings strongly supporting the ‘clathrate gun hypothesis.’ … Importantly, the interval we have studied is marked by a mean climate state comparable to future projections of transient global climate warming of 1.3 °C to 3.0 °C.” [emphasis mine]
We just this year passed 1.3 degrees Celsius of planetary warming: we are now in the territory of the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis if these researchers are right (although the risks are still small).
This is the first study I’ve seen to make such a claim, and it’s not from crackpots or alarmists; these are solid, credible scientists with a lifetime of learning and work behind them.
And, they argue, if the AMOC weakens or shuts down, all bets are off:
“Simulation studies have suggested warming of intermediate waters has been limited to ∼1.5 °C to 3 °C, and that such warmings were insufficient to significantly affect the stability of shallow subsurface methane hydrates. However, the magnitude of intermediate water warming can be significantly amplified by meltwater-induced weakening of atmospheric and ocean circulation, an amplification not considered in the simulations that examined potential gas hydrate destabilization.”
In other words, if the AMOC fails, the clathrate gun hypothesis becomes significantly more viable.
For much of the past four decades, climate activists have been warning us that we’re approaching tipping points and thresholds that will alter how Americans live, cost us a fortune, and kill millions of humans every year.
Now we’re there. Our “normal” climate is dead; the weather has gone insane, and it is annually killing thousands of Americans and millions of people all around the globe. And the numbers are increasing almost exponentially, year to year.
This is how quickly it has hit us: when I published the first edition of my book warning of climate change, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in 1996 (it’s been updated twice since then) there was still a vigorous debate here in the United States—funded in large part by the fossil fuel industry and its allies in rightwing media—over whether climate change was even a real thing.
They knew that their product was poisoning our atmosphere, but they were making hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. Nothing was more important to these morbidly rich people than that money.
They and their bought-off politicians began to believe their own lies, or at least some did, and thought this wouldn’t happen until they were all dead anyway, even if it was true.
But then it happened. The climate emergency we were worried about arrived. It is here, now.
Looking at statistical information about major heatwaves—particularly ones that hit multiple continents at the same time—the authors of the Journal of Climate paper referenced above found:
“Such simultaneous heatwaves are 7 times more likely now than 40 years ago. They are also hotter and affect a larger area.”
In the 1980s the Northern Hemisphere averaged around 73 heatwaves during the summer months from May to September. By the 2010s that number had grown to 152 heatwaves per summer.
And those heat waves are also almost 20 percent hotter than they were the year Reagan won the presidency (and denied climate change throughout his 8 fossil-fuel-funded years in office).
One of the most startling understandings of what’s happening has only become apparent in the past decade or so: that the atmospheric Polar Jet Stream is acting weird and thus making our weather extremes more severe.
Over the course of multiple conversations with a few of the world’s top climate scientists I’ve learned that the Polar Jet Stream—the fast-moving river of high-altitude (30,000+ feet) air that circulates around the North Pole—has slowed down, weakened, and is beginning to “drool” down over parts of North America, going as far south as Texas.
This was, in fact, what caused the severe winter weather that shut down Texas’ privatized power grid a few years back, along with causing the “bomb cyclone” freezing storms hitting the Midwest and Northeast every winter, and the extended periods of 100+ degree weather all across America, Europe, Russia, and China this summer.
Historically, the Polar Jet Stream was held in place—mostly in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere—by the temperature differential between the Arctic and the middle latitudes, where most Americans (outside of northern Alaska) live.
The cold arctic air defined the northernmost margin of the Polar Jet Stream while the warmer middle latitude air defined its southernmost margin. While it pushed weather patterns across North America for much of my life, it rarely dipped below the Mason-Dixon line and, even when it did, generally just brought the hot/cold, or wet/drought weather behind it for only a day or two.
But the Arctic has been warming at least three times faster than the middle latitudes where most of us live, which means the difference in temperature between the Arctic air to the north of the Jet Stream and our air to its south has diminished.
The North Pole/Arctic, once a solid cap of ice where Santa Claus was supposed to live, is now an open sea every summer.
As that temperature differential has declined, so has the strength and velocity of the Jet Stream. Now, instead of whipping across the Northern Hemisphere, it often spills down as far south as Mexico and then stays in place for days at a time.
What would have been a one-day cold-snap or heat wave becomes multiple days, long enough to wreak billions in damage to a state’s residential and energy infrastructure.
What would have been a rainstorm lasting a few hours becomes an unrelenting downpour lasting for days, creating massive flooding.
These changes in the Jet Stream, combined with the warming of our oceans (whose temperatures also drive weather), have also caused what were once routine weather patterns to change.
Regions that were only dry during the summer are now experiencing drought year-round; parts of the country where flooding was occasional but rare are now regularly experiencing massive, days-long storms that tear up houses and flood entire regions.
Flights are bumpier and being canceled with increasing frequency because of weather, as we’re just now sliding into this unknowable new era of severe weather weirding.
This is our new normal, and it’s costing us lives and billions of dollars every year, all to preserve the profits of a fossil fuel industry that knew in the 1960s that their product was poisoning the world and would lead to this outcome.
But don’t think that just because this is the new normal that this “normal” will last. The last time our planet saw CO2 levels at their current 422 parts-per-million, sea levels were 60 feet higher and trees were growing in Antarctica.
In other words, we’re on a path, not at a destination. The planet will catch up with all that CO2, and as it does our weather will continue to become more and more severe until we figure out a way to get CO2 levels back down to the 1950s count of just over 300 ppm.
Meanwhile, we’re pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere right now than at any time in human history, despite efforts among the world’s developed nations to reduce their carbon footprints.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a major kick-in-the-pants to Europe to get off their dependence on fossil fuels and go green, as have high oil and gas prices around the world.
But here in America, Republicans on the Supreme Court (with 6 justices put on the bench with money from fossil-fuel billionaires) kneecapped the Biden administration’s ability to regulate CO2 and promote green energy.
In 2010, five Republicans on the Court legalized political bribery with their Citizens United decision. And, of course, Republicans deeply in the pocket of Big Oil, Gas, and Coal continue to deny climate change is even happening. Just last week, Congressman Scott Perry called climate change a massive “grift.”
And now the Heritage Foundation has, according to Raw Story, a plan for the next Republican administration to gut the EPA; end the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations; end “grid expansion for the benefit of renewable resources or supporting low/carbon generation”; ban EPA workers from using certain types of science; and prevent other states from copying California’s strict environmental standards for greenhouse gasses.
The fossil fuel industry has almost unlimited money to buy politicians, per Citizens United. The ten top recipients of fossil fuel money in Congress last year were:
Manchin, Joe (D-WV) $724,270
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA) $396,284
Lankford, James (R-OK) $275,148
Pfluger, August (R-TX) $268,011
Kennedy, John (R-LA) $264,788
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK) $249,808
Sinema, Kyrsten (D-AZ) $230,160
Fletcher, Lizzie (D-TX) $191,765
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $191,450
Scott, Tim (R-SC) $181,291
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) $181,263
Gonzales, Tony (R-TX) $174,461
Rubio, Marco (R-FL) $165,636
Amazing how little it costs to buy a member of Congress to keep your multi-billion-dollar-a-year profits flowing, isn’t it?
Romney, Mitt (R-UT) $8,291,262
Cornyn, John (R-TX) $4,678,062
Cruz, Ted (R-TX) $4,138,421
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) $2,852,107
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA) $2,581,832
Hutchison, Kay Bailey (R-TX) $2,332,021
Inhofe, James M (R-OK) $2,320,139
Pearce, Steve (R-NM) $2,236,714
Barton, Joe (R-TX) $2,211,987
Brady, Kevin (R-TX) $2,087,396
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) $1,847,013
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK) $1,792,602
Americans are dying because these paid-off shills have either failed to act or actively blocked any meaningful change in our nation’s climate policy. They have blood on their hands, with more to come as every year brings more severe floods, storms, and drought.
We can no longer tolerate this morally criminal level of political malpractice, particularly since there is still time to act. And we must move quickly.
If America is to reclaim its position as a leader and role model for the world and stop the disastrous new climate “normal” we’re now entering from becoming radically more severe, we must get our use of fossil fuels under control.
That means ostracizing elected officials in the pocket of the industry, rolling back Citizens United so Big Oil and Big Coal can’t continue to bribe members of Congress, and throwing significant subsidies into greening our energy and transportation systems.
The climate emergency is here. We can’t wait any longer for major and dramatic worldwide action.
Editor’s Note: In today’s piece, we bring to you two issues from New Delhi, India. First, the Dwarka forest is being threatened with deforestation for redevelopment projects. Second, the spotted deer in Deer Park are being relocated to a different state because the authorities now believe that the deer have become “unmanageable.” The eco-suicidal drive of our collective culture is what makes decisions. The needs of nature and life come secondary. Both of these issues are a reflection of the same trend. The two issues are followed by a video from one of our readers. We thank Tannuja for providing us with the stories and David for offering the video.
Deforestation in Dwarka Forest
An obscure 120 acre forestland in Dwarka, New Delhi, India.
This dense forest, hardly known to the public of Delhi, is located right behind New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport’s T3 Terminal. It is a newly grown forest that is under the threat of eradication due to rapid urbanization taking place in the area.
Home to several species of both flora and fauna. Wildlife such as spotted deer, nilgai, local species of birds and many other animals have been thriving in the jungle peacefully.
This forest is close to Sahibi river, though it is newly grown forest (around after 2008), it falls in the migratory route of Birds arriving at Great Najafgarh Lake.
It also decreases the habitat concentration (overpopulation stress) from Najafgarh Lake.
Delhi airport emissions are on a constant rise. So, this natural forest soaks up all that massive carbon emissions as it is situated pretty close. Shielding Dwarka citizens from jet fumes.
Delhi airport is an urban heat-island and this forest helps regulate the rising temperature.
Reports state that due to excessive groundwater extraction – nearby areas are going to SINK! This forest falls in low lying area so it recharges so much water to keep the Dwarka & Kapashera areas from sinking.
What is the crisis that has struck?
Recently, it was reported by a local resident named Mr. Naveen Solanki, that the forest is rapidly being destroyed by the Railways Authority for Bijwasan Railway Terminal Redevelopment Project. Since January 2022, he has been defending the forest on his own and has even filed a complaint in the Forest Department of New Delhi against the same. Yet the complaints have been going unheard.
Even earlier, the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) had been slapped with a fine of almost 5.9 crore rupees (750,000 USD) by the Forest Department for felling 900 trees in the forest. The aggressive and rapid deforestation in the area continues to take place to this date for the Railways Project.
The wildlife that live in the forest, are at large risk of not only losing their home but being killed off as well by having no other option but to come out on the roads and into nearby areas with human settlements.
“Will the Government of India and authorities involved, do the right thing by putting an end to this atrocious eradicating of our forest lands?”
Link to complaints made by Mr. Solanki made public via. his Twitter account
— Naveen Solanki #BANCARS #CyclingRevolution🇮🇳 (@Solanki666N) July 4, 2023
Relocation of Deer from Deer Park
Hauz Khas, South District, New Delhi, India.
This is a 60 year old, sprawling 60 acre bio-diversity park that is situated within the heart of the capital city. It was named after activist and social worker Aditya Nath Jha and popularly known as “Deer Park” because of the significant population of spotted deer — which it has been home to for the last six decades.
A landmark place in the capital, it is home to not just the spotted deer population but hundreds of local species of birds, most notably the Indian peafowl, ducks and also a significant population of Indian monkeys and rabbits, along with a variety of flora as well.
For the last 60 years, the wild animals in the park have been thriving without any direct human intervention so far. Which is a matter of great feat considering Delhi has lost almost its entire wildlife population throughout the courses of its history.
One of the largest green belts to exist in New Delhi, it would be right to call it as one of “the lungs of Delhi” because it, collectively with other green belts, provides clean and fresh air in the otherwise heavily polluted capital city.
Plus, the existence of wild animals and to see them thriving within the park premises, is a sight to behold.
What is the crisis that has struck?
Very recently, The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, along with The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has passed an order deeming the existence of spotted deer population in the park as unmanageable.
So, it not only stripped-off the park of its “mini-zoo” title, but has decided to shut it completely by relocating its entire deer population (over 600 in number) to their “natural habitat” in the western state of Rajasthan — to be served as prey to other wild animals there. The place where the government wants to dump them (Rajasthan) is a desert state, with extreme arid climate throughout the year. These deer are used to living in the bearable, if not pleasant climate of New Delhi throughout their hundreds of generations. Now imagine getting dumped somewhere where there are no water sources readily available along with no grassland. The deer would come into a state of shock from not just the animals who’d want to hunt them but also the scarcity of their regular diets which they have been used to for years. The rise in the number of deer should’ve been a matter of pride and celebration, not an excuse to kick them out of their own home and take it all over.
Also, it would completely be put under the management of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) once the deer are relocated, which means that its landscaping would be altered or changed, to make it more accessible to humans/public.
“If the population of deer has become unmanageable, then why are the entire deer being relocated and not just a percentage of them?”
The concerned people of Delhi also fear that once the deer population is gone, then DDA also might start indulging the catering/event mafias in the park — to host private events and parties of the South Delhi elites in the park premises. The park would become a human-infested picnic spot and the talks about the authorities indulging catering/event mafias in its premises later on just might be right.This would only lead to littering and pollution in the park and impact/disturb its other wildlife residents that have been living peacefully there for the last six decades. Plus, many who have grown up in Delhi, have sentimental memories/values attached to the Deer Park. Hence, losing such a wildlife haven that has been there for the last sixty years in the heart of our city, has become nothing less than an utter shock to all of us.
A criminal slips a police officer a handful of bills and walks free. A businessman buys a politician with a briefcase full of cash. We often think of bribery and corruption in these blatant terms, and as something that happens in poor countries, elsewhere.
But corruption often looks different.
In the United States, where I live, corruption is common. It’s also mostly legal.
In fact, dirty money has become part of the political fabric of our nation. It has become normalized, institutionalized, and even regulated. And yet, the effects of this corruption are just as insidious and destructive as blatant payoffs. Corruption is a rot in our political system, and it is spreading.
This article is about American corruption, but the story will be told by looking at one particular Canadian mining company called Lithium Americas, which is working in the United States through a wholly-owned U.S.-based subsidiary, Lithium Nevada Corporation.
For two and a half years, I’ve been fighting Lithium Nevada to stop them from destroying Thacker Pass — a biodiversity hotspot and Native American sacred site known Peehee Mu’huh in the Paiute language that is in northern Nevada, just shy of the Oregon border. Lithium Nevada, as you have probably guessed, wants to turn this place into an open-pit lithium mine.
This is a special place. Thacker Pass is home to dwindling sage-grouse, Pronghorn, mule deer, and golden eagles. It’s a migratory corridor and climate change refuge. It’s the watershed for local communities, and the site of two massacres of Paiute people, including one on September 12, 1865 in which US Army soldiers killed between 30 and 50 men, women, children, and elders in a surprise attack at dawn. It’s been recognized by the Federal Government as a “Traditional Cultural District,” a landscape of outstanding importance to Native American history and cultural identity.
And right now, as you read this, it is being destroyed by a corrupt corporation and a corrupt government. Bulldozers are rolling and centuries-old sagebrush, millennia-old artifacts, and the lives of precious desert creatures are being crushed under metal treads.
How is this possible? How, in a democracy where people have the right to protest, to speak out, to comment, to petition, to file lawsuits, how is it possible to have such a miscarriage of justice? And more broadly, how is it possible that our governmental system is failing to address the ecological catastrophe we are facing: the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth?
Part of the answer is corruption, which we can break down into five categories: lobbying, writing laws, the revolving door, campaign contributions, and community bribery. Let’s look at each in turn, using Lithium Americas and Thacker Pass as an example.
Lobbying: How Corporations Gain Disproportionate Access
Lobbying is based on a simple principle: that government officials should listen to their constituents.
Transparency International defines lobbying as “Any activity carried out to influence a government or institution’s policies and decisions in favor of a specific cause or outcome.”
“Even when allowed by law,” they say, “these acts can become distortive [harmful to democracy and justice] if disproportionate levels of influence exist — by companies, associations, organizations and individuals.”
Today’s lobbying is not the simple practice of people talking to their elected officials. Instead, it’s a tightly regulated $3.73 billion industry dominated by political insiders and major corporations, rife with corrupt “revolving doors,” and matched by at least $3-4 billion in “shadow lobbying” that isn’t regulated or disclosed to the public in any way.
The regulation of lobbying is essential to its proper functioning as a method of corruption. As Ben Price, National Organizing Director at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, puts it, “regulation is not so much a way to curb corruption, but more to the point, regulations legalize the corruption by defining the limits to it that will be disallowed.”
“In doing so,” he continues, “the principle effect of regulations is to shield bribery from legal liability by legalizing enough of it to serve the purpose of the corporate legislative influencers.”
Like advertising, corporations use lobbying because it works.
Studies have found that spending more money on lobbying and campaign contributions results in direct reductions in federal taxes, state taxes, and more federal contracts. One analysis looking at only the nation’s 200 most “politically active” corporations found they spent $58 billion on lobbying the federal government and “campaign contributions”[i] between 2007 and 2012, but received $4.4 trillion in federal subsidies, contracts, and other support during the same time period. That’s a 7,580% return on investment.
Another study found even bigger returns: “on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government” — a 76,000% payout.
Corporations are Writing Our Laws
Corporations use lobbyists because their wealth allows them disproportionate access to the government, meaning that they can build relationships with politicians and staffers, influence policy, share ideas, and even draft legislation. They can also bribe judges, as the recent Clarence Thomas corruption scandal shows. But it goes further. As one report in NPR notes, “It’s taken for granted that lobbyists influence legislation. But perhaps less obvious is that they often write the actual bills — even word for word.”
Our laws are being written by corporations.
And this isn’t just a federal problem. A 2019 USA Today investigation found more than 10,000 bills introduced to legislatures in all 50 states over an 8-year period were “almost entirely copied from bills written by special interests.” The report also notes that their investigation detected these bills using automated techniques, and “the real number is probably far higher.”
Our politicians rarely write laws. Instead, corporations and lobbyists write laws; congress sells the laws to the public; then lobbyists pay their congresspeople in campaign contributions, Super PAC funding, and revolving-door job opportunities – topics we will look at next.
The Revolving Door
Another way that corruption has become endemic inside the government of the United States is through what’s known as the “revolving door.”
The revolving door refers to the common practice of corporate employees quitting their jobs and going to work in the government, and vice versa. It’s quite common for government employees and elected officials to quit or end their terms and immediately get jobs in the industries they were supposedly regulating.
This is a sort of “retroactive bribery” where government officials do what corporations want, then get paid off afterwards. And it’s completely legal.
Occasionally there will be stories of lobbyists who stray into outright bribery — Jack Abramoff, notably — but these stories are rare, not because corruption is uncommon, but becauseyou don’t really need to break the law as a corporation: you wrote the laws. And you did it deliberately to make your bribery and influence campaigns legal.
As of 2016, about half of retiring senators and a third of retiring House Representatives register as lobbyists to collect their checks. This is equally common among Democrats and Republicans.
Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Lobbying Activities (the ones we know about)
Harbinger is “a leading federal government and political affairs firm” that was founded by and employs former high-level Republican congressional aides and political operatives. They have been listed as among the top lobbyists in Washington D.C. and made a total of $10.9 million in 2021 from a client list which includes the airline industry, major banks and investment firms, mining companies, biotech, the military-industrial complex, Facebook, electric utilities, General Electric, and the oil and gas industry.
“We leverage our experience as former senior staff to the Congressional Leadership and the Executive Branch to position clients for a seat at the decision-making table,” they write on their website. They continue: “[Harbinger is] founded on the belief that every client deserves partner-level legislative expertise” — a “boutique model” — that they use “for one simple reason: it gets results.”
In the state of Nevada, Lithium Nevada Corporation has hired at least 4 lobbyists since 2017 from two businesses: Argentum Partners, “a full-service strategic communications firm… with a hungry, energetic, and experienced team of lobbyists,” and Ferrato Corporation, “a full service bi-partisan public affairs firm.”
Notably, Lithium Nevada’s Argentum lobbyists included Mike Draper, who “helmed the media relations and public affairs for the planning, permitting, construction and opening of the Ruby Pipeline, the largest natural gas pipeline in North America.” The Ruby Pipeline was fought vehemently by environmentalists and Tribes in 2009 and 2010.
Another technique of legalized corruption is “campaign contributions,” also known as donations to politicians.
Many countries in the world place strict limits on the amount of money that people can donate to political candidates, or even have political campaigns funded by the government, removing the influence of money almost entirely. The United States is not one of those countries.
Elected officials in the United States are desperate for money. The average U.S. senator has to rase $14,000 a day just to stay in office — and that’s once they’re already elected. This is true for both Democrats and Republicans, which is why corporations, both directly and through their lobbyists and employees, tend to play both sides by donating to both political parties.
For example, Jonathan Evans, CEO of Lithium Americas Corporation, donated at least $10,250 to political candidates between 2021 and 2022 including Catherine Cortez Mastow (Democratic Senator from Nevada) and Mark Amodei (Nevada’s Republican Governor). George Ireland, Board President of Lithium Americas, has donated at least $19,800 to candidates since 2011, including $500 to the Trump campaign and $6,600 to John Hickenlooper. Data from OpenSecrets.org shows that 7 other Lithium Americas employees, Board members, and associated parties gave at least another $10,819 to political candidates between 2018 and 2022.
These amounts don’t include the MUCH larger political contributions given by employees and family members of Harbinger Strategies, who gave $392,842 to political candidates in the 2020 election cycle alone.
Many of these people donated up to the legal limit, implying that if the limit were higher, they would give more money — and perhaps that they would seek ways to circumvent contribution limits via so-called “Super PACs” and other dark money techniques.
Keep in mind that less than 1.5% of Americans donate more than $200 to political candidates or parties in any given year. This is the domain of the wealthy.
Lithium Americas money is well-spent.
In what appears to be a quid pro quo for their lobbying and campaign contributions, Lithium Americas Corporation has been granted a total of $8,637,357 in tax abatements from the State of Nevada, including a partial sales tax abatement worth $5 million, a $3.3 million property tax abatement and about $225,000 in payroll tax abatements. That money is unavailable for schools, healthcare, social services, small business assistance, environmental programs, etc.
From the Federal Government, Lithium Americas has received a loan from the Department of Energy’s “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program” (ATVM) which is likely to cover “up to 75% of the Thacker Pass’ total capital costs for construction.”
This loan program offers highly favorable terms that amount to a significant subsidy of as much as $3 billion USD.
Based on a very conservative estimate for Lithium Americas Corporation lobbying and employee campaign contribution of, say, $400,000, they’re looking at a return on investment of 2,100% — and that’s before including the massive financial value of the ATVM loan.
Corruption in politics is often matched with corruption at a local level.
Lithium Americas’ plans to destroy Thacker Pass have created serious community opposition among farmers and ranchers from the rural areas closest to Thacker Pass, among local citizens in the nearby town of Winnemucca, among environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife, plants, air, and water, and among Native American tribes concerned about their sacred and culturally important sites, animals, and medicines.
The response has been predictable. Anti-mining activist Joan Kuyek’s book Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community From The Mining Industry describes the myths repeated incessantly by Lithium Americas and almost every mining company:
“The mine will create hundreds of jobs and enrich governments.”
The mine can make community members rich and solve all of their social and economic problems.”
“Modern engineering will ensure that the mine doesn’t damage the water, air, or the wildlife.”
When these myths are exposedasfalse, they resort to legalized bribery. At Thacker Pass, that takes the form of Lithium Americas Corporation paying for a new school for the community of Orovada, and signing an agreement with one local Tribal Councilwoman for construction of a cultural center. One tribal member, my friend Shelley Harjo, wrote in response: “A few promised buildings and a cultural center do not supersede the responsibility we have to our ancestors before us nor our obligation to our unborn after.” Another Tribal leader in the region says of the mining companies, “They take advantage of our poverty.”
That poverty gives the mining companies serious leverage. Among community members at Fort McDermitt, rumors of bribery are common.
Lithium Americas’ Involvement in Human Rights Abuses Overseas
Lithium Americas has deep business links and personnel overlaps with Chinese state-owned mining corporation Ganfeng Lithium (the largest lithium company in the world). In fact, Ganfeng and Lithium Americas are co-owners of an Argentinian lithium mining company known as Minera Exar.
The Minera Exar mining project is located in the Andean highlands in the so-called “lithium triangle,” an arid region near the borders of Chile and Bolivia. Over the years that Minera Exar has been active in the region, they — like other lithium mining companies in the area — have come under criticism for serious environmental and human rights abuses.
“Mining companies have for years been extracting billions of dollars of lithium from the Atacama region… But the impoverished Atacamas have seen little of the riches… one lithium company, a joint Canadian-Chilean venture named Minera Exar, struck deals with six aboriginal communities for a new mine here. The operation is expected to generate about $250 million a year in sales while each community will receive an annual payment — ranging from $9,000 to about $60,000 — for extensive surface and water rights.
The exposé continues:
“Yolanda Cruz, one of the leaders of the village in Argentina, said she signed the [community benefits agreement with Minera Exar] but now regrets it. At the time she valued the opportunity to create jobs for her village. But she now worries, ‘we are going to be left with nothing.’ she said. ‘The thing is the companies are lying to us —that’s the reality. And we sometimes just keep our mouths shut,’ she said. ‘We don’t say anything and then we are the affected ones when the time goes by.’”
Meanwhile, Ganfeng Lithium recently announced plans to mine for battery metals in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese Government has detained and imprisoned Uyghyrs and other Muslim groups in forced labor and indoctrination camps.
Waste of Government Funds
We are being told the main goal of lithium mining at Thacker Pass is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is another lie, a new type of corporate greenwashing which is becoming increasingly common. In fact, many analyses actually find that the emissions reductions from switching to electric vehicles are relatively minor.
Producing a single electric car releases greenhouse gas emissions—about 9 tons on average. This average is rising as the size of electric cars is going up substantially. The more electric cars are produced, the more greenhouse gases are released. And so while EVs reduce emissions compared to gasoline vehicles, bigger EVs don’t reduce them much. Analysis from the Center For Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice says that electrification of cars in the United States will reduce national emissions by only 6 percent.
Further, producing lithium at Thacker Pass would require 700,000 tons per year of oil refining byproducts — sulfur, perhaps largely sourced from the Alberta Tar sands. While Thacker Pass receives billions in subsidies from the government, carbon emissions are continuing to rise.
Environmental activist Paul Hawken, as another example, doesn’t put electric cars in his top 10 climate solutions. In fact, it’s number 24 on his list, with almost ten times less impact than reducing food waste, nearly six times less impact than eliminating the use of refrigerants which are powerful greenhouse gases, and behind solutions like tropical rainforest restoration (about 5 times as effective at reducing emissions as is switching to EVs) and peatland protection (more than twice as effective).
Corruption and waste go hand-in-hand. The data makes it clear that if reducing greenhouse gases is your goal, subsidizing the Thacker Pass lithium mine is not a good use of government funds. It’s wasteful.
If you actually want to allocate government funds to effectively halt global warming, giving money to extractive industries is the exact wrong thing to do.
Instead, start with women’s rights, educating girls, and making contraception and family planning widely available. Start with economic relocalization initiatives. Start with insulating homes properly, which may have the biggest immediate carbon impact per dollar spent. Start with demand-reduction initiatives.
Stop wasting taxpayer money on subsidies to Earth-destroying corporations, and start taking actions that really matter.
The Banality of Evil
Lithium Americas’ corruption reminds me of what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “The Banality of Evil.” Writing of Otto Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, Arendt explains that Eichmann felt no guilt; indeed, he never even considered that what he was doing might be wrong: “He did his ‘duty’…; he not only obeyed ‘orders’, he also obeyed the ‘law’.”
As one article states, “[Eichmann] performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann ‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he ‘commit crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong’.”
Lithium Americas is not killing people en masse, nor are they even among the “worst” mining companies. They may even be acting completely within the boundaries of the law. And yet they are complicit in cultural genocide, in ecological destruction for personal gain, and in what may be an even bigger crime against the future: greenwashing their destruction as positive and thus creating more financial and political incentives for more of this madness.
They believe that what they are doing is right and they are “following the rules.”
The corruption at Thacker Pass is not unique. Lobbying, campaign contributions, greenwashing, and community bribery is common in the United States and across much of the world. I believe there is likely much more corruption that we are not aware of. Perhaps there really are briefcases full of cash being exchanged. We can only speculate. And, this article has not even begun to discuss the government complicity in lawbreaking, corruption, and ethical violations at Thacker Pass — a story that is, in some ways, even more sordid.
All of which is part of why academic analyses of the United States tend to show “economic-elite domination” rather than true electoral democracy or pluralism. The wealthy are running our country (and indeed, the world) Our government is corrupt, corporations are running rampant, and our world is being destroyed.
For many, the situation we find ourselves in is paralyzing. What can do in the face of this?
When I first came out to begin protecting Thacker Pass and setup a protest camp on the planned mine site in the depths of winter 2021, I had no illusions. I knew that the courts weren’t likely to save us. Remember, the laws were written by corporations. I knew that public commenting wasn’t going to work; the regulations are written to favor corporate interests. I knew that the government wasn’t going to help, since the politicians are mostly bought and paid for. I even knew that standard methods of protest would likely be ineffective, given the repression tactics and divide-and-conquer strategies that have been honed over centuries by corporations and colonizers.
As a society, we find ourselves in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event, a global climate catastrophe, and seemingly terminal overshoot. And as an environmental movement, despite our brave and inspired action, it has not been enough.
Whether you agree that this is needed or not, we can all agree that what we are doing isn’t working. I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that it’s time to go further.
This article was originally published on Earth Day 2023. Since then, there have been developments in Thacker Pass. Direct action has been able to halt mine construction for the moment. Read more about it here.
Featured image: Resistance in Thacker Pass by Max Wilbert
Editor’s Note: For a long time, natural landscapes have been destroyed in the name of development. “Development” – a vague concept in itself – is the primary driver of destruction and ecocide across the world. Same thing is happening in the beautiful Gozo island of Malta. But it’s not happening without resistance. Some local groups are fighting for their land. This piece is written by a member of resistance against the development. In addition to the brief overview of the “developmental” project, this piece is also a fundraising appeal from the group.
By Corrine Zahra
Malta is an archipelago country made up of five islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. This country is rich in culture and history, with a native language and multiple dialects. Being such a small country with an area of about 316 km², overdevelopment is on the rise.
Residents from a small town called Nadur in Gozo are fighting against a development called PA/00085/21. Located in a one-way countryside road called Qortin Street, this major development was a big deal in the Maltese news since it consisted of 40 apartments and 11 penthouses – over four floors, as well as 61 parking spaces.
Gozo is a beautiful island that forms part of the Maltese Islands which is under threat. Unsustainable overdevelopment is taking place! The residents had created a video two years ago which helped them to collect objections from the public.
This proposal got approved a few months ago anyways, in which the residents as well as the NGOs Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (Together for Better Environment) and Moviment Graffitti are now trying to take the Maltese Planning Authority to court to reverse this decision.
This development will eat away at precious farmland, causing sewage to run into farmers’ crops and the water table as well as causing massive parking issues, along with posing safety issues.
This development will completely change the landscape of the area. The street consists of small houses with a maximum of three stories each. Next door to the development, there currently exists a block of apartments yet only has 15 apartments in total – very few compared to the amount proposed by the applicant. Once the virgin land is destroyed, the view of Nadur and Qala will be destroyed too.
In the early mornings, while walking in my street, I can smell the freshness and feel the water droplets in the air. This countryside street full of vegetation and raw soil will be destroyed to build apartments which do not belong there. The number is out of proportion to the rest of the developments in the street. Qortin Street is a quiet street with few residents, yet with this new building, there will be a parking problem and a cultural shift as the buyers will not be people from Gozo but mainland Maltesers.
If this development does get built, I do plan to move away from Gozo. I do not want to see the development – I do not want my image of Qortin Street to change. It’s a shame that this development will change Gozitan culture – this is happening all over Gozo. I will gain nothing out of fighting for this land; I do not own any of the land which is going to be destroyed and I will not get any money out of this too. I simply want my street to remain calm and quiet and relaxing – I want to preserve the land and the peace of mind that it gives me.
The residents and NGOs had managed to get 1300+ objections, yet in spite of this, PA/00085/21 was still approved. However, they are still fighting and now they need YOUR help!
The residents created another video to help get local donations yet are now trying to reach out to international organizations to help their cause. Kindly find their crowdfunding video here.
They hope that you can help their cause to stop this monstrosity of a development from being built. Help save Malta and Gozo from overdevelopment. No one wants Malta to turn into a concrete jungle – this has already started and they want to prevent that.
It is imperative that citizens enjoy their right to a good quality of life, preserving the countryside and iconic views for future generations.
Please help the residents appeal through the EPRT and if necessary through the Courts of Appeal, by donating here.
All donations will cover the costs of their legal team who have already done incredible work in fighting this case at the Planning Authority, but now they need your help to continue to fight this case in court.
Editor’s note: The Ambler road is being planned in Alaska to connect the Dalton Highway with the Ambler Mining District. It will cross the Arctic National Park, state lands and native lands. The road in itself poses many threats to the wildlife which is described in the following piece. Many stakeholders are involved in this project, some of them support it and some of them oppose it. Proponents include the Congressional delegates from Alaska and native tribes who hope to benefit from the added jobs in their economy. Those who oppose it are the native groups whose subsistence hunting and gathering is threatened by the road and conservationists.
As George Wuerthner mentions in this piece, for a long time, the mining project was not feasible economically, and thus the area was protected from extraction. As we are extracting the last remaining fossil fuels, mining sites like these, which were too expensive in the past, become more necessary for the so called energy transition. We can expect this trend to grow in the future. As fossil fuels peak, there will be more and more extraction of these last remaining pockets of minerals. This mining prospect in Alaska is just another example of this.
While much conservation and political attention have focused on whether to allow oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, another project, the Ambler Mining Project, and road construction proposal may pose even greater threats to the Arctic’s wildlife and wildlands. Despite this threat, The Ambler project has thus far received far less attention from the media, politicians and conservation organizations.
The proposed 211-mile Ambler Road would connect the Dalton Highway (pipeline haul road) with the Ambler Mining District in the western Brooks Range. The ore belt that stretches for 200 miles contains copper, cobalt, lead, and zinc and could be one of the most valuable deposits in the world, especially as people turn to electric vehicles.
There is new interest in encouraging the US development of critical minerals and energy, and the Ambler Mining proposal benefits from this push for US sources of minerals.
Although these deposits have been well-known for decades, the cost of mining, smelting, and transportation has precluded development. (I knew about the ore deposits in the 1970s when I lived and worked along the Kobuk River).
Years ago, I taught a class on Alaskan Environmental Politics. I emphasized that Alaska has more oil, coal, minerals, and even forests than most other parts of the United States. Many of these resources remain undeveloped because of the harsh climate, remote locations, and lack of access.
There are, for instance, substantial forest resources in Southeast Alaska. Still, they cannot be cut and transported without government subsidies because it’s cheaper to log trees in Oregon or Washington.
The Prudhoe Bay oil fields were the world’s 10th most significant oil reserves, and the other nine were in the Middle East. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields would have remained undeveloped had it not been for the construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline, which made these oil reserves economic to develop.
The Ambler Mineral deposits are considered “world-class.” Getting a road to the Ambler Deposits is the first step in making mining operations profitable. The Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) and the Corps of Engineers under the Trump Administration approved the road plan in 2020, and officials agreed to issue a 50-year right-of-way for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state public corporation working to develop the project.
However, the Biden Administration halted the road project while a Supplemental EIS process mandated by the courts was completed. However, my sources in Alaska suggest this may be for show. The comment period ended on November 4th, and the BLM review will likely be published sometime in the new year.
If you want to understand politics, all you have to do is follow the money.
The mining claims are owned mainly by local Iñupiat people living in NW Alaska coast and inland along the Kobuk River, represented by NANA corporation. They also operate the Red Dog Zinc mine, one of Alaska’s most significant mining and polluted sites.
During the land selection process created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), native people targeted the lands with valuable known mineralization or fossil fuel resources.
In the case of the Ambler mines, NANA shareholders are likely to be employed during road construction and mining operations.
One study estimates that 20% of all construction jobs will be held by local villagers, providing significant money input into these rural villages. NANA corporate leaders likely believe they are working in the best interests of their constituency.
In addition to NANA and some residents who would benefit from jobs and royalty payments, the road is also supported by the state of Alaska. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) would own Ambler Road.
Alaska’s Congressional Delegation, including newly elected half-Native Democrat Mary Peltrola and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, support the road and mining proposal. Peltrola has also joined her Republican counterparts in the Senate to support oil development in the Naval Petroleum Reserve.
The road, if built, would likely lead to road sprawl and the expansion of development in the region, including perhaps oil development in the Naval Petroleum Reserve to the north of the Brooks Range.
Although the supporters point out that the road would be a private road only accessible to industrial use, opponents point out that the same claim was made about the Pipeline Haul Road. However, in 1994 the state opened the Pipeline Road (Dalton Highway) for unrestricted, public use.
Opposition to the road comes from Tanana Chiefs and other Athabascan Indians living along the Koyukuk River and tributaries. The Athabascan would gain no advantage to a road except perhaps for more accessible and cheaper shipment of supplies. But they fear the road would disrupt subsistence hunting and gathering.
The Athabascans are not necessarily opposed to mining or oil development themselves. Doyon Native Corporation, which represents the Athabascan people of the Yukon Basin, during the land selection process of the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act has specifically targeted mineralized lands. Today, they have several active mining operations. However, Doyon has neither endorsed or opposed the Ambler Road and mining projects.
However, Doyon has proposed alternative road access to the Ambler district from Nome.
So, in essence, the road is pitting one ethnic native group against another.
In addition to opposition from some native people, many conservationists also oppose the road. The Ambler Road, if built, would cross the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and numerous other protected areas like the Kobuk Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The National Park Service did an excellent review of the potential impacts of the road on wetlands, water quality, fish, wildlife, subsistence, and recreational impacts on the park that applies to the total road mileage.
Conservationists and native people opposed to the mine have produced a good video about how the road would impact the Arctic:
An environmental review by the BLM in 2020 found that the road would impact salmon, caribou, and other wildlife.
Roads can be semi-permeable barriers, and although crossing such obstacles is possible, caribou may shift or entirely abandon their seasonal habitat. The disturbance and activity along the road and mining operations are likely to affect caribou in other ways. Studies have shown that caribou may travel up to 9.3 miles to avoid roads and 11.2 miles to avoid settlements.
For instance, a study of the Native-owned Red Dog Mine Industrial Access road north of Kotzebue found that just four vehicles an hour affected the migration of 30% of collared caribou, or approximately 72,000 individuals of the 2017 population estimates.
Linear features like roads also are used by predators like wolves. This can increase predator influence on prey like caribou. Roads and seismic lines in Alberta have led to increased predation on woodland caribou.
It also does not take much imagination to see that this road will eventually be extended to the coast by Kotzebue, fragmenting the entire western Brooks Range’s ecosystems.
Nevertheless, the road’s construction was approved by the Trump administration. However, the Biden Administration has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to reevaluate the Environmental Review.
The BLM accepted comments until November 4th. Whether the BLM review changes the decision to move forward with the road remains to be seen.
But my sources in Alaska say that the Biden Administration is likely to approve the road to help Alaskan politicians, perhaps with stricter regulations designed to address environmental concerns. The Biden Administration doesn’t want to oppose new Democratic Congressional Representative Mary Petrola who is a supporter of the mine road. Murkowsi was critical to Democrats in voting to convict Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6th insurrection, was one of three GOP to vote for nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and she was the only GOP member to support the Voting Rights Bill. Biden does not want to alienate her potential support for other Democratic agenda votes.
I can’t emphasize enough that this road is one of the biggest threats to the Arctic’s wildlands and wildlife. It is bigger than just the development impacts that may result from the Ambler Mining operations. I have no doubts that the road, if built, will eventually make other mineral and oil, and gas sources economically viable to develop.
George Wuerthner is a professional photographer, writer, and ecologist. He has written more than three dozen books on natural history and other environmental topics. He is currently the Ed of Public Lands Media. Wuerthner has visited hundreds of mountain ranges around the West, more than 400 wilderness areas, more than 200 national park units, and every national forest west of the Mississippi. Listen to Derrick Jensen’s latest interview with George Wuerthner.