By Frédéric Moreau
Read Part 1 of this article here.
While the share of solar and wind power is tending to increase, overall energy consumption is rising from all sources — development, demography (a taboo subject that has been neglected for too long), and new uses, such as digital technology in all its forms (12% of the electricity consumed in France, and 3% worldwide, a figure that is constantly rising, with digital technology now emitting more CO2 than air transport⁴⁴). Digital technology also competes with vehicles, especially electric ones, in terms of the consumption of metals and rare earths. This is perfectly logical since the renewable energy industry, and to a lesser extent the hydroelectric industry (dams), requires oil, coal and gas upstream to manufacture the equipment. Solar panels look indeed very clean once installed on a roof or in a field and which will later produce so-called “green” electricity.
We almost systematically forget, for example, the 600 to 1,500 tons of concrete for the wind turbine base, often not reused (change of model or technology during its lifespan, lack of financing to dismantle it, etc.), which holds these towers in place. Concrete that is also difficult to recycle without new and consequent energy expenditures, or even 5,000 tons for offshore wind turbines⁴⁵. Even hydrogen⁴⁶, which inveterate techno-futurists are now touting as clean and an almost free unlimited energy of tomorrow, is derived from natural gas and therefore from a fossil fuel that emits CO2. Because on Earth, unlike in the Sun, hydrogen is not a primary energy, i.e. an energy that exists in its natural state like wood or coal and can be exploited almost immediately. Not to mention that converting one energy into another always causes a loss (due to entropy and the laws of thermodynamics; physics once again preventing us from dreaming of the mythical 100% clean, 100% recyclable and perpetual motion).
Consequently oil consumption, far from falling as hoped, has instead risen by nearly 15% in five years from 35 billion barrels in 2014 to 40 billion in 2019⁴⁷. Moreover, industry and services cannot resign themselves to the randomness of the intermittency inherent in renewable energies. We cannot tell a driver to wait for the sun to shine or for the wind to blow again, just as the miller in bygone days waited for the wind to grind the wheat, to charge the batteries of his ZOE. Since we can hardly store it in large quantities, controllable electricity production solutions are still essential to take over.
Jean-Marc Jancovici⁴⁸, an engineer at the École des Mines, has calculated that in order to charge every evening for two hours the 32 million electric cars, that will replace the 32 million thermal cars in the country⁴⁹, the current capacity of this electricity available on demand would have to be increased sevenfold from 100GW to 700GW. Thus instead of reducing the number of the most polluting installations or those considered rightly or wrongly (rather rightly according to the inhabitants of Chernobyl, Three Miles Island and Fukushima) potentially dangerous by replacing them with renewable energy production installations, we would paradoxically have to increase them. These “green” facilities are also much more material-intensive (up to ten times more) per kWh produced than conventional thermal power plants⁵⁰, especially for offshore wind turbines which require, in addition to concrete, kilometers of additional large cables. Moreover the nuclear power plants (among these controllable facilities) cooling, though climate change, are beginning to be made problematic for those located near rivers whose flow is increasingly fluctuating. And those whose water, even if it remains abundant, may be too hot in periods of heat wave to fulfill its intended purpose, sometimes leading to their temporary shutdown⁵¹. This problem will also be found with many other power plants, such as those located in the United States and with a number of hydroelectric dams⁵². The disappearance of glaciers threaten their water supply, as is already the case in certain regions of the world.
After this overview, only one rational conclusion can be drawn, namely that we did not ask ourselves the right questions in the first place. As the historian Bernard Fressoz⁵³ says, “the choice of the individual car was probably the worst that our societies have ever made”. However, it was not really a conscious and deliberate “choice” but a constraint imposed on the population by the conversion of the inventors/artisans of a still incipient automobile sector, whose limited production was sold to an equally limited wealthy clientele. The first cars being above all big toys for rich people who liked the thrills of real industrialists. Hand in hand with oil companies and tire manufacturers, they rationalized production by scrupulously applying Taylorist recipes and developed assembly lines such as Ford’s Model T in 1913. They then made cars available to the middle classes and over the decades created the conditions of compulsory use we know today.
Streetcars awaiting destruction. Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive.
It is this same trio (General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone mainly, as well as Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum) that was accused and condemned in 1951 by the Supreme Court of the United States of having conscientiously destroyed the streetcar networks and therefore electric public transport. They did so by taking advantage after the 1929 crash, of the “godsend” of the Great Depression, which weakened the dozens of private companies that ran them. Discredited and sabotaged in every conceivable way — including unfair competition, corruption of elected officials and high ranking civil servants, and recourse to mafia practices — streetcars were replaced first by buses, then by cars⁵⁴. This was done against a backdrop of ideological warfare, that began decades before the “official” Cold War, which an equally official History tells us about: socialist collectivism — socialist and anarchist ideas, imported at the end of the nineteenth century by immigrants from Europe and Russia, deemed subversive because they hindered the pursuit of private interests legitimized by Protestantism — countered, with the blessing of the State, by liberal individualism. This unbridled liberalism of a country crazing for the “no limits” way was also to promote the individual house of an “American dream” made possible by the private car, which explains so well the American geography of today, viable only thanks to fossil fuels⁵⁵.
Today not many people are aware of this, and very few people in the United States remember, that city dwellers did not want cars there. They were accused of monopolizing public space, blamed for their noise and bad odors. Frightened by their speed and above all they were dangerous for children who used to play in the streets. Monuments to those who lost their lives under their wheels were erected during demonstrations gathering thousands of people as a painful reminder⁵⁶. In Switzerland the canton of Graubünden banned motorized traffic throughout its territory at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was only after quarter of a century later, after ten popular votes confirming the ban, that it was finally lifted⁵⁷.
Left: Car opposition poster for the January 18th, 1925, vote in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. Right: Saint-Moritz, circa 1920. Photo: Sammlung Marco Jehli, Celerina.
The dystopia feared by the English writer George Orwell in his book 1984 was in fact already largely underway at the time of its writing as far as the automobile is concerned. In fact by deliberately concealing or distorting historical truths, although they have been established for a long time and are very well documented, it is confirmed that “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A future presented as inescapable and self-evident, which is often praised in a retroactive way, because when put in the context of the time, the reticence was nevertheless enormous⁵⁸. A future born in the myth of a technical progress, also far from being unanimously approved, in the Age of Enlightenment. The corollary of this progress would be the permanent acquisition of new, almost unlimited, material possessions made accessible by energy consumption-based mass production and access to leisure activities that also require infrastructures to satisfy them. International tourism, for example, is by no means immaterial, which we should be aware of when we get on a metallic plane burning fossil fuel and stay in a concrete hotel.
With the electric car, it is not so much a question of “saving the planet” as of saving one’s personal material comfort, which is so important today, and above all of saving the existing economic model that is so successful and rewarding for a small minority. This minority has never ceased, out of self-interest, to confuse the end with the means by equating freedom of movement with the motorization of this very movement.
The French Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire declared before the car manufacturers that “car is freedom⁵⁹”. Yet this model is built at best on the syllogism, at worst on the shameless and deliberate lie of one of the founders of our modern economy, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste. He said: “Natural resources are inexhaustible, for without them we would not obtain them for free. Since they can neither be multiplied nor exhausted, they are not the object of economic science⁶⁰“. This discipline, which claims to be a science while blithely freeing itself from the constraints of the physical environment of a finite world, that should for its part submit to its theories nevertheless by exhausting its supposedly inexhaustible resources and destroying its environment. The destruction of biodiversity and its ten-thousand-years-old climatic stability, allowed the automobile industries to prosper for over a century. They have built up veritable financial empires, allowing them to invest massively in the mainstream media which constantly promote the car, whether electric or not, placing them in the permanent top three of advertisers.
To threaten unemployment under the pretext that countless jobs depend on this automobile industry, even if it is true for the moment, is also to ignore, perhaps voluntarily, the past reluctance of the populations to the intrusion of automobiles. The people who did not perceive them at all as the symbol of freedom, prestige and social marker, even as the phallic symbol of omnipotence that they have become today for many⁶¹. It is above all to forget that until the 1920s the majority of people, at least in France, were not yet wage earners. Since wage employment was born in the United Kingdom with the industrial revolution or more precisely the capitalist revolution, beginning with the textile industry: enclosure and workhouses transformed peasants and independent artisans into manpower. Into a workforce drawn under constraint to serve the private capital by depriving them of the means of their autonomy (the appropriation of communal property). Just as imported slaves were on the other side of the Atlantic until they were replaced by the steam engine, which was much more economical and which was certainly the true abolitionist⁶². It is clear that there can be no question of challenging this dependence, which is now presented as inescapable by those who benefit most from it and those for whom it is a guarantee of social stability, and thus a formidable means of control over the populace.
Today, we are repeatedly told that “the American [and by extension Western] way of life is non-negotiable⁶³. “Sustainable development,” like “green growth,” “clean energy” and the “zero-carbon” cars (as we have seen above) are nothing but oxymorons whose sole purpose is to ensure the survival of the industries, on which this way of life relies to continue enriching their owners and shareholders. This includes the new information and communication industries that also want to sell their own products related to the car (like artificial intelligence for the autonomous car, and its potential devastating rebound effect). To also maintain the banking and financial systems that oversee them (debt and shareholders, eternally dissatisfied, demanding continuous growth, which is synonymous with constant consumption).
Cheerful passengers above flood victims queing for help, their car is shown as a source of happiness. Louisville, USA, 1937. Photo: Margaret Bourke-White, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
All this with the guarantee of politicians, often in blatant conflicts of interest. And all too often with the more or less unconscious, ignorant or irresponsible acceptance of populations lulled into a veritable culture of selfishness, more than reluctant from now on to consent to the slightest reduction in material comfort. Which they have been so effectively persuaded can only grow indefinitely but made only possible by the burning of long-plethoric and cheap energy. This explains their denial of the active role they play in this unbridled consumerism, the true engine of climate change. Many claim, in order to relieve themselves of guilt, to be only poor insignificant creatures that can in no way be responsible for the evils of which they are accused. And are quick to invoke natural cycles, even though they are often not even aware of them (such as the Milankovitch cycles⁶⁴ that lead us not towards a warming, but towards a cooling!), to find an easy explanation that clears them and does not question a comfortable and reassuring way of life; and a so disempowering one.
Indeed people, new Prometheus intoxicated by undeniable technical prowess, are hypersensitive to promises of innovations that look like miracle solutions. “Magical thinking”, and its avatars such as Santa Claus or Harry Potter, tends nowadays to last well beyond childhood in a highly technological society. Especially since it is exalted by the promoters of positive thinking and personal development. Whose books stuff the shelves in every bookstore, reinforcing the feeling of omnipotence, the certainty of a so-called “manifest destiny”, and the inclination to self-deification. But this era is coming to an end. Homo Deus is starting to have a serious hangover. And we are all already paying the price in social terms. The “gilets jaunes” or yellow vests in France, for example, were unable to accept a new tax on gas for funding renewables and a speed reduction on the roads from 90km/h down to 80km/h. Paying in terms of climate change, which has only just begun, from which no one will escape, rich and powerful included.
Now everyone can judge whether the electric car is as clean as we are constantly told it is, even to the point of making it, like in Orwell’s novel, an indisputable established truth, despite the flagrant contradiction in terms (“war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”). Does the inalienable freedom of individual motorized mobility, on which our modern societies are based, have a radiant future outside the imagination and fantasies of the endless technophiles who promise it to us ; just as they promised in the 1960s cities in orbit, flying cars, space stations on the Moon and Mars, underwater farms… And just as they also promised, 70 years ago, and in defiance of the most elementary principle of precaution, overwhelmed by an exalted optimism, to “very soon” find a definitive “solution” to nuclear waste; a solution that we are still waiting for, sweeping the (radioactive) dust under the carpet since then…
Isn’t it curious that we have focused mainly on the problem of the nature of the energy that ultimately allows an engine to function for moving a vehicle and its passengers, ignoring everything else? It’s as if we were trying to make the car as “dematerialized” as digital technology and the new economy it allows. Having succeeded in making the charging stations, the equipment, the satellites and the rockets to put them in orbit, the relay antennas, the thousands of kilometers of cables, and all that this implies of extractivism and industries upstream, disappear as if by magic (and we’re back to Harry Potter again). Yet all very material as is the energy necessary for their manufacture and their functioning, the generated pollution, the artificialization of the lands, etc.⁶⁵
Everlasting promises of flying cars, which would turn humans into new Icarius, arenearly one and a half century old. Future is definitely not anymore what it used to be…
Everyone remains free to continue to take the word of economists who cling like a leech to their sacrosanct infinite growth. To believe politicians whose perception of the future is determined above all by the length of their mandate. Who, in addition to being subject to their hyperactive lobbying, have shares in a world automobile market approaching 1,800 billion Euros per year⁶⁶ (+65% in 10 years, neither politicians nor economists would balk at such growth, which must trigger off climax at the Ministry of the Economy!). That is to say, the 2019 GDP of Italy. Moreover, in 2018 the various taxes on motor vehicles brought in 440 billion Euros for European countries⁶⁷. So it is implicitly out of the question to question, let alone threaten the sustainability of, this industrial sector that guarantees the very stability of the most developed nations.
It is also very difficult to believe journalists who most often, except a few who are specialized, have a very poor command of the subjects they cover. Especially in France, even when they don’t just copy and paste each other. Moreover, they are mostly employed by media financed in large part, via advertising revenues among other things, by car manufacturers who would hardly tolerate criticism or contradiction. No mention of CO2-emitting cement broadcasted on the TF1 channel, owned by the concrete builder Bouygues, which is currently manufacturing the bases for the wind turbines in Fécamp, Normandy. No more than believing startups whose primary vocation is to “make money”, even at the cost of false promises that they know very few people will debunk. Like some solar panels sold to provide more energy than the sun works only for those who ignore another physical fact, the solar constant. Which is simply like making people believe in the biblical multiplication of loaves and fishes.
So, sorry to disappoint you and to hurt your intimate convictions, perhaps even your faith, but the electric car, like Trump’s coal, will never be “clean”. Because as soon as you transform matter from one state to another by means of energy, you dissipate part of this energy in the form of heat. And you inevitably obtain by-products that are not necessarily desired and waste. This is why physicists, scientists and Greta Thunberg kept telling us for years that we should listen to them. The electric car will be at best just “a little less dirty” (in the order of 0 to 25% according to the various studies carried out concerning manufacturing and energy supply of vehicles, and even less if we integrate all the externalities). This is a meager advantage that is probably more socially acceptable but it is quickly swallowed up if not solely in their renewal frequency. The future will tell, at least in the announced increase of the total number of cars, with a 3% per year mean growth in terms of units produced, and of all the infrastructures on which they depend (same growth rate for the construction of new roads). 3% means a doubling of the total number of vehicles and kilometers of roads every 23 years, and this is absolutely not questioned.
Brittany, France, August 2021.
42 With 8 billion tons consumed every year, coal stands in the very first place in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. International Energy Outlook, 2019.
44 & https://web.archive.org/web/20211121215259/https://en.reset.org/knowledge/our-digital-carbon-footprint-whats-the-environmental-impact-online-world-12302019
47 https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/oil & https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2019-full-report.pdf & https://www.ufip.fr/petrole/chiffres-cles
49 Atually there are 38.2 million cars in France, more than one for two inhabitants:
50 Philippe Bihouix and Benoît de Guillebon, op. cit., p. 32.
51 https://www.lemonde.fr/energies/article/2019/07/22/canicule-edf-doit-mettre-a-l-arret-deux-reacteurs-nucleaires_5492251_1653054.html & https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/energy-water-collision
53 Co-author with Christophe Bonneuil of L’évènement anthropocène. La Terre, l’histoire et nous, Points, 2016 (The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us, Verso, 2017).
54 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242431866_General_Motors_and_the_Demise_of_Streetcars & Matthieu Auzanneau, Or noir. La grande histoire du pétrole, La Découverte, 2015, p.436, and the report written for the American Senate by Bradford C. Snell, Public Prosecutor specialized in anti-trust laws.
55 James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape, Free Press, 1994.
56 Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic. The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, The MIT Press, 2008.
57 https://www.avenir-suisse.ch/fr/vitesse-puanteur-bruit-et-ennuis/ & Stefan Hollinger, Graubünden und das Auto. Kontroversen um den Automobilverkehr 1900-1925, Kommissionsverlag Desertina, 2008
58 Emmanuel Fureix and François Jarrige, La modernité désenchantée, La Découverte, 2015 & François Jarrige, Technocritiques. Du refus des machines à la contestation des technosciences, La Découverte, 2014.
59 Journée de la filière automobile, Bercy, December 02, 2019.
60 Cours complet d’économie politique pratique, 1828.
61 Richard Bergeron, le Livre noir de l’automobile, Exploration du rapport malsain de l’homme contemporain à l’automobile, Éditions Hypothèse, 1999 & Jean Robin, Le livre noir de l’automobile : Millions de morts et d’handicapés à vie, pollution, déshumanisation, destruction des paysages, etc., Tatamis Editions, 2014.
62 Domenico Losurdo, Contre-histoire du libéralisme, La Découverte, 2013 (Liberalism : A Counter-History, Verso, 2014) & Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present, Longman, 1980 (Une Histoire populaire des Etats-Unis de 1492 a nos jours, Agone, 2003) & Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery, The University of North Carolina Press, 1943.
63 George H.W. Bush, Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
65 Guillaume Pitron, L’enfer numérique. Voyage au bout d’un like, Les Liens qui Libèrent, 2021.
67 Source: ACEA Tax Guide 2020, fiscal income from motor vehicles in major European markets.
In October, DGR conducted an on-the-ground fact finding mission to the sites of two proposed lithium mines in Nevada. In this article, we look at the facts regarding the plans Lithium Nevada company has for mining and processing lithium (mainly destined for making electric car batteries) in northern Nevada, at Thacker Pass.
The company, now with shares owned by a Chinese mining company, claim their open-pit strip-mine will be a “green mine.” Much of this material comes from Thacker Pass. Special thanks to Aimee Wild for collating this material.
Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table of the elements. It is cost effective. It is an excellent conductor. Lithium batteries power cell phones, laptops and now cars. The batteries are rechargeable and last longer than other batteries. Lithium is also used in heat-resistant glass, ceramics, aircraft metals, lubrication grease, air treatment systems and some pharmaceuticals.
Interest in the mining of lithium as an important commodity is soaring. Lithium is located in the earth’s crust, oceans, mineral springs and igneous rocks. To be able to extract it economically an area, concentrated lithium is needed, hence the interest in the Nevada site. Thousands and thousands of tons of lithium are extracted, processed, transported and utilized every year.
Thacker Pass Mine
Thacker Pass Mine is owned by Lithium Americas. They have a mining project in South America (The Cauchari-Olaroz Project) which is currently under construction, and of course in Nevada, the proposed Thacker Pass mine. Ganfeng (a chinese based mining company) is one of the largest shareholders of Lithium America. This increases the potential for mining and processing to be shipped overseas.
Local communities have struggled to get to the bottom of the plans for the mines. The brochures are complicated and convoluted. What is clear is that the local people have been chosen as a guinea pig. Most Lithium mines in South America involve pumping saltwater brine on barren salt flats where the lithium slowly floats to the top, is skimmed off, and is then purified for use in batteries.
In Australia they use spodumene ore, which is higher quality than the product Lithium Nevada plans to use. There are concerns linked to how the poorer quality lithium will be processed and the transport of chemicals into the processing areas. There are concerns regarding the transportation of refinery waste by rail cars, and shipping. The plans include transporting waste sulfur, by truck to the mine site, where it will be burned and converted to enormous quantities of Sulfuric Acid on a daily basis. Processing (burning) elemental sulfur, creates sulfur dioxide, sulfur trioxide and ultimately sulfuric acid—all of which are toxic and harmful to life.
There are concerns that the processing of lithium could ‘accidentally’ expose naturally-occurring uranium. Of course there have been promised by the company to ensure that any radioactive waste will be contained by a “liner.” This seems wholly inadequate when considering there is a water source nearby, and processing plants can have accidental fires or explosion. We know from global disasters (Fukoshima and Chernobyl) that the impact environmental disasters involving radioactive waste can devastate human and non-human communities. Transporting chemicals to or from processing plants increase the risk of accidents, and the smell of sulphur in nearby neighborhoods is likely to be overwhelming at times.
Clarity Needed On The Impact Of Thacker Pass Mine
Opposition to these plans are likely to strengthen when the public understand the plans and the potential impact, and when the information is not shrouded in convoluted documents. In short, the mines almost certainly will be destructive to water fowl, to any life in the rivers and lakes nearby, and impact on the water table.
The air quality is likely to reduce, and the storage and transportation of toxic chemicals increases non-intentional leakage/accidents. If understood correctly the plans to dispose of some waste include a tailing pond, which could contain a) toxic solids, b) harmful discharges c) could impact air quality, and d) could leach into ground water. The mining and processing of lithium is destructive to people, non-human life, the land, the water and the air.
Is It Carbon Neutral?
Burning sulfur does not create carbon, so in that respect the facts are correct. However, as with all green capitalist extraction plans this is a small percentage of the whole picture. The whole picture (or the fact based plans) are obscured with overly complex plans and emperors-new-clothes type scenarios. The process of burning sulfur creates harmful (toxic) chemicals and removes oxygen from the atmosphere.
A conservative estimate is that the processing plant will require over 10,000 gallons of diesel per day to run. In additional to this is the fuel needed to transport the sulfur from the refinery (yes; it comes from an oil refinery) to the mine site. You also have the fuel needed to transport the workers and the electricity needed to keep the plant functioning.
There are concerns that the lithium from this project could be shipped to China for processing in the future. Lithium Americas has been loaned substantial amounts of money from Ganfeng and Bangchak. The Chinese Mining company already own shares in Lithium Nevada and could intentionally own more rights if the loan is not paid back.
So, carbon neutral—no. Friendly to the environment—no. There is not much difference between mountaintop removal coal mining and mountaintop removal lithium mining. Both are exceptionally destructive.
You can read more about lithium mines here: www.portectthackerpass.org. Join our newsletter for more info on lithium mining and greenwashing.
Last Saturday morning, hundreds of activists gathered outside the Governor’s Residence to protest the approval of the 401 water quality certification for the Line 3 Pipeline. This permit, which was granted on Thursday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, would allow Enbridge to cross 730 acres of wetlands and more than 200 streams in northern Minnesota.
This is the penultimate authorization required by Enbridge before it can officially begin construction on its controversial tar sands pipeline. The 401 permit will be sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure it complies with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. That agency must complete their review process before the MPCA will consider the pipeline’s Construction Stormwater Permit.
Line 3 has been under fire from activists and water protectors since its proposal in 2014. At the protest this morning, demonstrators denounced a number of issues associated with the project, including violations of Indigenous treaty rights, endangerment of wild rice, the correlation between construction (which involves building large man camps for pipeline workers) and sex and drug trafficking, as well as the murders and disapearances of Indigenous women. As a tar sands pipeline, the impacts of Line 3 on global greenhouse emissions, loss of native forests, and destruction of Minnesota wetlands and bodies of water are irreparable.
In the words of Taysha Martineau, a member of Fond du Lac tribe, “Today we are meeting at the Governor’s residence to show solidarity with all Indigenous communities that will be affected by the Line 3 pipeline. When Infrastructure such as Line 3 goes up, the statistics of violence against Indigenous women increase by 22 percent… When Tim Walz put pen to paper, he was educated on these statistics, and himself, Laura Bishop and Peggy Flanagan chose to ignore those voices. We echo those voices and turn those whispers today into screams, shouting with indignation as ongoing injustice against Indigenous people continues in America today.”
At the event, demonstrators formed a large picket line, distributed masks, and remained six feet apart to abide by COVID gathering restrictions. During the demonstration the Line 3 Pledge of Resistance was distributed among demonstrators, who committed to take action against the construction of this pipeline.
Looking forward, legal battles will continue, including challenges to Thursday permits in court, as well as an appeal from the Public Utilities Commission, which argues that the MPCA relied on an incorrect demand forecast when assessing financial need of the pipeline.
Once begun, Enbridge claims that pipeline construction will take between six to nine months to complete. As a result, water protectors are gearing up for a frontline battle, saying, “If you don’t stop Line 3, we will.”
For more information and live updates, call Genna Mastellone at 917-715-0670 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For photos and videos of the event as it happens, check out organizers’ social media accounts.
Corporations are driven by a necessity to privatize profits and externalize costs. In this article, Suresh Balraj highlights how the concept of limited liability further reduces the accountability of corporations to the consequences of their actions, and asks “how can we hold corporations accountable?”
The Myth of Limited Liability
By Suresh Balraj
Prof. Nicholas Murray, former president of Columbia University, might have been wrong when he said : “The limited-liability corporation is the greatest invention of modern times”; simply because, there is nothing original about limited liability at all. In fact, it wraps new language around a concept that is as old as ‘civilisation’ itself – that of enriching rulers at the expense of the majority of humans and their non-human communities.
The American anthropologist Stanley Diamond noted : “Civilisation originates in conquest abroad and repression at home”; certainly, he is not the only one to remark that the central goal and function of the State has been, from the very beginning, that of robbing the poor in order to feed the rich.
One of the founding fathers of the American constitution, James Madison, also insisted – in the 18th century – that the main goal of the political system should be to protect the minority (elites) against the majority.
Besides, the Godfather of economics, Adam Smith, wrote : “Civil government … is instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor or of those who have some property against those who have none at all”. But, including John Locke, who stated that the State has no other end other than the preservation of property, were all being rather modest. The reason being, the main function of the State actually goes even further; not only to just protect, but more importantly, to acquire more and more property for the opulent.
In other words, from the very beginning, the one and the only goal/objective has been the privatisation of profits and the externalisation of costs; and, the only question : how best to do this ?
Force is, of course, one way. For which, we need to probably ask the Africans, for example – more than 100 million dead during the slave trade alone; or, for that matter, the ‘American Indians’, who were decimated a dozen times over in the conquest of their homeland. Another very striking example of the times would be the scores of indigenous communities, across the globe, who continue to be both dispossessed and exterminated (as rapidly as those who came before them).
Or even better, would be to ask a present, modern day slave; for example, the e-coolies in ‘bondage’ in sweatshops and bodyshops – couched in technical jargons, such as, silicon valley, technopark, infopark, infocity, blue-chip, six-sigma and fortune 500/1000.
However, at the end of the day, force is expensive or economically unviable, at least in the long run. Therefore, it would be simply great, if you could convince the very victims to participate or co-operate in the process of their victimisation. Thus, in ancient times, those in power invoked the divine right of the feudal lords (kings) – trying to convince not only themselves, but particularly, those from whom they usurped both life and property; as a result, anyone who dares to oppose this divine intervention or Godly incarnation shall be subject to eternal condemnation.
Obviously, this was possible during the pseudo-religious era – the ‘dark’ ages. But, in today’s so called civilised world, this might seem to be pretty extreme. For example, if those in power said that Warren Anderson, the mass murderer of the victims of Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, in 1984 – the worst air pollution disaster in the history of humankind – should not be executed due to a divine mandate, it would then make a mockery of the rule of law.
So the powerful had come up with a different way to keep the victims of their misdemeanours from hurting them in retaliation.
And, for this reason, they somehow seem to have the uncanny knack of getting all of us to buy into the extraordinarily odd notion of limiting their liability (accountability) for the arson, looting and daylight robbery, including poisoning and murder, committed by them, by simply uttering the magical words : limited liability corporation. What is even worse is the fact that they’ve also somehow got us to believe that the very idea (of a limited liability corporation) is not only great, but something like that actually exists in real life. On the other hand, the eternal truth is that, the fictitious human imagination is no more than a black hole, a blind spot and, to say the least, a pipedream.
To this end, limited liability simply means that the owners – shareholders/stakeholders – are not liable, and therefore, cannot be held responsible or accountable, for the actions of their corporations. In other words, the so called investors are liable to lose only the money invested, and are in no way responsible for the genocide, ecocide and other heinous crimes committed by them or their corporations.
Above all, limited liability is not only about profits or amassing wealth (illegally); rather, it is about the institutionalisation and explicit acknowledgement of the fact that it is simply impossible to ‘create wealth’, without externalising the costs, thereby, paying the supreme price resulting in the complete annihilation of even life forms and whole habitats. The issue of energy being a classic example, at the core of the very survival of life on earth.
Limited liability has allowed several generations of corporate owners to socially, economically, culturally/psychologically and legally ignore the poisoning of the earth. Its function is not to guarantee that children are raised in an environment free of pollution, nor to respect the life and autonomy of indigenous communities, nor to protect the vocational and personal integrity of workers, nor to design safe modes of transportation, nor to support the millions of life forms on earth. It never has been and never will be.
Here, what is really important are not labels; because, no matter what language we use, poison is still poison, and death is still death. The modern military-industrial base is causing the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet. What we are witnessing today is the simultaneity of unprecedented ‘riches’ on the one hand, and unthinkable or unimaginable deprivation and poverty on the other. A brutal form of insatiable hunger, where the more you consume or possess, the more desperate you become. What this means is that, those running the ‘show’ (corporations) just can’t help running amok, till they actually kill the host – although it is equally suicidal for the rich, as well as, the poor to destroy the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’, i.e., the natural world.
Suresh Balrah is an environmental anthropologist and social ecologist based in South India. He has been working in forestry, agriculture, and fisheries for several decades with a focus on community-based renewable management. He is a guardian for Deep Green Resistance.
How Can We Hold Corporations Accountable?
Editors note: As Suresh explains, the structure of law and of corporations makes them legally unassailable. Therefore, there are two primary methods to roll back corporate dominance: change the law, or break the law. Both methods present serious challenges. For more on how we can hold corporations accountable, we recommend you read the book Deep Green Resistance, which explores strategic resistance methods in detail.
Featured image by Gerard Van der luen, CC BY NC ND 2.0.
Coronavirus rarely kills people directly—so why are people dying? This piece from Paul Feather, animist farmer and writer, challenges simplistic, reductionist thinking, and proposes a synthesis approach to understanding the current crisis.
Cause of Death: Civilization
By Paul Feather
Sixty five thousand, six hundred and fifty two. As of this writing, John Hopkins reports this death toll from coronavirus [the official death toll is now above 100,000].
It’s strange to me, the way we count these deaths. I would like to count them differently. I would like to use science, even though the scientists won’t. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you count things, but this particular number—or rather its rate of growth—has lost us our constitutional right to assemble. A third of the world’s population is on lockdown with more to come no doubt, and I fear for the suffering that results from these restrictions.
So maybe we should check our numbers.
Our culture has a strange idea of cause and effect.
It’s very reduced; we have a tendency to explain very complex situations with very singular causes. (This is often useful: reduction is the key to controlling things, and to placing blame.)
However, reducing everything down to single causes—like cause of death from a virus—isn’t helpful for deep understanding of complex situations, nor is it good science. I’ll be cautious of speaking for cultures that aren’t mine, but a broad study of language and culture would probably show that there are other ways to perceive the world and better forms of science. This reduced view just happens to be the one we’re born into.
There are many reasons that people die. This is especially true in a situation as complex as global pandemic where economic factors clash with public health and culture; where death can result or be prevented by membership in a privileged group or by access to technology.
In such a complex system, we must resist the temptation and habit to reduce the cause of death to a single root and throw out every other contributing factor no matter how important it may be. Many of the reasons that people are now dying are long-term, structural problems that make us fragile to pandemic. These are the macro-causes of death, but we tend to ignore them in favor of short-term micro-causes, such as the presence of this particular virus at this particular time.
Here’s a metaphor. If I remove 90% of the structural members in your house and then the wind blows your house down, should we say that the wind caused your house to fall? Would that be good science? And if many houses had been sabotaged in this way, but we published statistics about house failures due to wind damage (mentioning nothing about sabotage), wouldn’t these be misleading statistics? And any policy based on those numbers bad policy?
Our health has been sabotaged. The saboteurs continue to profit. Death was coming. This disease is only the wind.
Cause of Death: The Chronic Health Crisis
There are many studies showing that people are much more likely to die after coronavirus infection if they already suffer from one of the many chronic health problems that plague our civilization such as diabetes, hypertension, COPD, cancer, and more. In some studies, as many as 99% of patients who died after contracting COVID-19 had a comorbidity of this kind (and that wouldn’t even include unreported asymptomatic cases). Further, it’s also clear that comorbidities make us more likely to contract the virus in the first place.
What this means is that tens of thousands of people are dying from complex situations involving at least two causes—virus and chronic condition—but we are reducing that situation to a single cause when we report the cause of death as COVID-19. These chronic conditions inflate COVID-19 death tolls, and the roles of Pepsi-co, Nestlé, and McDonald’s; Philip Morris, Bayer, and Pfizer; Monsanto, Sinopec, and Shell—the role of the poisons produced by these companies are not accounted for. These factors are being distilled out of the death tolls.
If we accounted for comorbidity as a very well-documented factor in deaths that have occurred over the past several months—as well as for those that will occur in the upcoming months—we would not attribute these deaths to the virus. We would, in fact, see a sharp rise in death rates associated with the chronic diseases of civilization. Policy initiatives and public response to that spike in death rates might look more like shutting down the local Frito-Lay plant than taking our right to assembly and confining abused women in homes with their now unemployed abusers.
Please Note: for some reason, when I’ve made this argument people seem to hear that I think the deaths of sick people don’t count, because they were sick anyway, or they were old, and they don’t matter. That is NOT what I am saying at all. I am refusing to distill the cause for these deaths into a virus when people have been dying all along and will continue to die from poisons that corporations produce and shove down our throats or release into our waters and soils. I insist that these deaths be counted, but I refuse that they should be counted so wrongly. It is true that COVID-19 is a factor in these deaths, but co-morbidity is an almost necessary condition for death as well, and our death tolls do not reflect this.
Sixty nine thousand, four hundred, and forty four. I step away from my writing for a few hours, dig a little in the garden, plant a row of potatoes, and 3,792 people have died “from coronavirus.”
There are other, perhaps less well-studied factors in these deaths as well. It is particularly strange how we’ll reduce cause of death to a virus, but then suddenly open our minds to other factors when it suits our political agenda or narrative. So for instance, my liberal friends will dispute the above argument about chronic disease as a cause of death but blithely attribute (and perhaps rightly) any number of deaths to Trump’s early denial of the crisis and his refusal to mobilize infrastructure to produce more ventilators.
Why don’t we have enough ventilators?
It would be possible to have a culture that was prepared for this tragedy. Many experts have foreseen it, and the only real answer to our lack of preparation is that we didn’t care. We do not value caring. Riane Eisler, in her book The Real Wealth of Nations, sketches the structure of a caring economy that would—among other things—reduce incarceration, empower women, and fairly compensate caregivers, healthcare workers, and educators. Such a structure would certainly value preparedness for pandemic.
Humans in other places and times have demonstrated caring societies. For instance, in The Chalice and the Blade, Eisler finds that Neolithic European societies were unmarked by social stratification or accumulation of private wealth. For thousands of years, these matrilineal goddess worshiping people developed technologies to “enhance quality of life” rather than for weaponry. However, towards the beginning of the historical period, invaders conquered these ancient partnership societies, and an unfortunate cultural transformation took place.
After a series of invasions, metalwork in this era began to be increasingly used for spears, swords, and daggers rather than fishhooks, awls, and woodworking tools; ‘chieftain graves’ appeared, in which an elite strongman was buried among rich gifts and the skeletons of his slaves and concubines. The symbols uncovered after this conquest indicate a patriarchal dominator culture that worshipped the blade, and who perceived power not as a generative force, but as the power to destroy, conquer, rape, and plunder. Modern civilization was born when the conquering dominator/patriarchy co-opted the symbols, myths, stories, laws, and writing of the matrilineal, goddess worshipping, egalitarian culture that they subjugated to create the society in in which we live today.
So we may blame Trump for his failure to mobilize our infrastructure to produce masks and ventilators, and I certainly believe in holding uncaring leaders accountable for their failures. But, we should not confuse this placement of blame with a ‘cause’ of death, for the systems that created this situation arose from what Friedrich Engels described as, “The world historical defeat of the female sex,” thousands of years ago. Irrespective of individual leaders, our dominator culture will never care if we have enough ventilators or enough doctors, nurses, and caregivers, or even if people die as long as there’s profit to be made. It’s slightly harder to know how to adjust COVID-19 death tolls to account for our uncaring culture than it is for well-studied chronic conditions, but I’d take any deaths that result from exceeding the capacity of our healthcare system, and chalk those up to the patriarchy.
Cause of Death: Colonization / Extraction
Certainly some number of otherwise healthy people with access to healthcare and a ventilator will be killed by this virus. But what caused the virus? (One problem with reduction is that it always leads to an endless chain of ‘causes.’) As endlessly hungry industrialized nations force their way into wild lands (or force people off of their native lands so that they flee into wild lands) multinational corporations expose us to more and more zoonotic diseases. This has become such a problem that the US Agency for International Development has financed a project called Predict to anticipate these outbreaks in order to rape these lands without such inconvenience. (Pandemic isn’t good for the bottom line after all.)
So, what portion of pandemic death tolls can’t be attributed to the prevalence of chronic health problems or our uncaring economic system starts to look like the exported cost of colonization by multinational corporations destroying what remains of the wild.
Sixty nine thousand, four hundred, and seventy nine. In the time it took me to write these last paragraphs, John Hopkins reports thirty-five more people died of civilization.
Cause of Death: Hierarchy
I do wish people would stay at home. However complex these systems may be, and however nuanced or broad our analysis, we should act to slow the progression of this disease. And if we did so voluntarily, there need be no attack on our rights. Why don’t we do this?
It’s hardly reasonable to reduce the behavior of millions of people to any meaningful cause, but we could muse on this a little. Who is most at risk from this disease? Death rates increase exponentially with age above sixty years, while deaths of people under thirty are mostly anecdotal. There is a clear generational divide in the risks that people face during this crisis, and there have been many frustrated critics who’ve observed that young people disproportionally fail at social distancing. But why wouldn’t young people act to protect their elders?
That’s an easy one. Young people have grown up with bleak prospects for the future and they can see that their elders who call the shots don’t much care. Young people have faced gun violence in their schools; surveyed oceans full of plastic; heard increasingly dire predictions about climate change; numbly watched as rhinos, orangutans, and polar bears marched toward extinction, and generally try not to think about what might be in their water and food. They have been defrauded by the educational system and placed in crippling debt without being provided skills that are relevant in this rapidly changing society. I could detail a list of grievances for young people against their elders that is every bit as long as Thomas Jefferson‘s against the King of England, and young people are barely more represented in our government than were colonial Americans.
We have a hierarchical social structure that concentrates power in the hands of certain groups of people who benefit at the expense of others. It is a complex arrangement of many different and overlapping groups that each exploit or are exploited by other groups. In this system, it is not reasonable to expect that any exploited group would voluntarily sacrifice their own freedom and well-being to protect the group that exploits them. Nor should they. Young people (and their children) will suffer hardship, have fewer resources, and probably live shorter lives to pay for the excesses of their parents and grandparents; and this is an injustice that we knowingly commit. Yet people act exasperated to see young people out on the beach during a pandemic and ask, “How can they be so irresponsible?”
We are now seeing—and will soon be seeing more—the deadly results of this hierarchical arrangement. What if older generations had made a good faith effort to stand up for their own children? What if elders had ceded some power, capital, and influence to the demands of future generations—demands that were loudly and clearly spoken but ignored? This did not happen, and now our hierarchical culture cannot muster the solidarity and mutual aid that would be needed to prevent deaths in this time of crisis.
Cause of Death: Civilization
The only good reduction is a synthesis. If we were to combine all of these causal factors, would there be a word that could contain them all? Could we then reduce these deaths that they tell us are caused by a virus to something that speaks for all of these causes together—of patriarchy, chronic disease, colonization, hierarchy, along with others upon which I have not elaborated: globalization, urbanization, political infighting—and what would that word be? It could only be our culture or our civilization as a whole.
When we bring all of these causes together, we must also note that COVID-19 death tolls pale in comparison to the daily death and suffering that results from that this collection of factors.
Malnourishment alone (certainly a legacy of colonization) kills 15,000 children every day, yet English speaking people in the global North don’t bring similar urgency to this crisis or even perceive it as an emergency, because the children dying are mostly black, brown, and far away.
It is only now—when our violent civilization generates a threat capable of piercing the armor of privilege—that we act to curb the effects of this violence; and then only by seeking to suppress the most micro-causal factor in this great chain of causes. As this micro-cause directly affects the global upper class, we fixate upon it, and most of us can’t perceive the extensive scope and nature of this crisis.
What to do with this analysis?
First, I think we should hold scientific organizations such as the WHO and the CDC accountable and demand that they publish uninflated death tolls that account for well-studied macro-causes of death such as co-morbidities.
This would be simple accounting, because it merely incorporates well-published data from studies that are entirely valid even in the language spoken by the scientific community. This alone would rapidly deflate COVID-19 death tolls and ease frightened citizens’ outcry for these draconian lockdowns that might endanger more people than they protect. It would also create a basis upon which to work toward dismantling the structures that are actually killing people. (Ideally, there would be some effort to account for economic factors that embody patriarchy, externalized costs of colonization, hierarchical power distributions, etc., but that might be a bit much for the modern scientific mind to bear.)
Additionally, I think we should refuse to cede the language space that attributes these deaths to COVID-19. I think we should go a step further than some existing observations that this virus is a disease of civilization, and refuse to acknowledge the virus as being a cause of death at all—or at least the most important one. For while coronavirus infection is a necessary condition for death from COVID-19, there are many other necessary conditions as well, and there are many cases where infection carries no risk at all or goes unnoticed. I think we should maintain our focus upon structural causes that killed people before this virus ever showed up, that are killing people now, and that will certainly kill people next year if we don’t completely restructure our society and destroy the economic system that makes those deaths profitable.
Seventy thousand, four hundred, and eighty two. I typically sleep on a piece of writing before making final edits, and in that time Johns Hopkins reports one thousand and three people have died from civilization. Seven and a half thousand children died from starvation in that same period of time.
For further reading on this topic, see “Civilization Makes Us Sick” and “The Ecology of Disease.”