Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case

Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case

Editor’s note: Any movement, if effective in challenging the status quo, is bound to face persecution from the state. The persecution may come in many forms, from defamation, to legal action, to outright murder. The twenty year long COINTELPRO program was run by the FBI to destabilize many movements including African-American, Native Americans and communist movements across the United States. A variety of methods was used to achieve the goal.

The Green Scare is the set of tactics used by FBI in the early twenty-first century to discredit and persecute the radical environmental movement. The following article discusses the Green Scare, putting it in context of the recent demise of Dave Foreman, a found of Earth First! and an early target of Green Scare.


By Jeffrey St. Clair – Joshua Frank/CounterPunch

Dave Foreman, whose vision spawned a radical wave of the US environmental movement, passed away this week at the age of 74 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was controversial, he was stubborn, but he wasn’t one to compromise the fight to save wilderness and open space. The following piece on Foreman’s foray with federal law enforcement first appeared in our book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. – Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank

Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, awoke at five in the morning on May 30, 1989, to the sound of three FBI agents shouting his name in his Tucson, Arizona home. Foreman’s wife Nancy answered the door frantically and was shoved aside by brawny FBI agents as they raced toward their master bedroom where her husband was sound asleep, naked under the sheets, with plugs jammed in his ears to drown out the noise of their neighbor’s barking Doberman pincher. By the time Foreman came to, the agents were surrounding his bed in bulletproof vests wielding .357 Magnums.

He immediately thought of the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago, expecting to be shot in cold blood. But as Foreman put it, “Being a nice, middle-class honky male, they can’t get away with that stuff quite as easily as they could with Fred, or with all the Native people on the Pine Ridge Reservation back in the early 70s.”

So instead of firing off a few rounds, they jerked a dazed Foreman from his slumber, let him pull on a pair of shorts, and hauled him outside where they threw him in the back of an unmarked vehicle. It took over six hours before Foreman even knew why he had been accosted by Federal agents.

Foreman’s arrest was the culmination of three years and two million tax dollars spent in an attempt to frame a few Earth First! activists for conspiring to damage government and private property. The FBI infiltrated Earth First! groups in several states with informants and undercover agent-provocateurs. Over 500 hours of tape recordings of meetings, events, and casual conversations had been amassed. Phones had been tapped and homes were broken into. The FBI was doing its best to intimidate radical environmentalists across the country, marking them as a potential threat to national security.

It was the FBI’s first case of Green Scare.

The day before Foreman was yanked from bed and lugged into the warm Arizona morning, two so-called co-conspirators, biologist Marc Baker and antinuclear activist Mark Davis were arrested by some 50 agents on horseback and on foot, with a helicopter hovering above as they stood at the base of a power line tower in the middle of desert country in Wenden, Arizona, 200 miles northwest of Foreman’s home. The next day Peg Millet, a self-described “redneck woman for wilderness,” was arrested at a nearby Planned Parenthood where she worked. Millet earlier evaded the FBI’s dragnet.

Driven to the site by an undercover FBI agent, the entire episode, as Foreman put it, was the agent’s conception. Foreman, described by the bureau as the guru and financier of the operation, was also pegged for having thought up the whole elaborate scheme, despite the fact that their evidence was thin.

Back in the 1970s, the FBI issued a memo to their field offices stating that when attempting to break up dissident groups, the most effective route was to forget about hard intelligence or facts. Simply make a few arrests and hold a public press conference. Charges could later be dropped. It didn’t matter; by the time the news hit the airwaves and was printed up in the local newspapers, the damage had already been done.

It was the FBI’s assertion that the action stopped by the arrests under that Arizona power line in late May 1989, was to be a test run for a much grander plot involving Davis, Baker, Millet, and the group’s leader, Dave Foreman. The FBI charged the four with the intent to damage electrical transmission lines that lead to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado.

“The big lie that the FBI pushed at their press conference the day after the arrests were that we were a bunch of terrorists conspiring to cut the power lines into the Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities in order to cause a nuclear meltdown and threaten public health and safety,” explained Foreman.

In the late 1980s, the FBI launched operation THERMCON in response to an act of sabotage of the Arizona Snowbowl ski lift near Flagstaff, Arizona that occurred in October 1987, allegedly by Davis, Millet, and Baker. Acting under the quirky name, Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy (EMETIC) — the eco-saboteurs wrecked several of the company’s ski lifts, claiming that structures were cutting into areas of significant biological importance.

This was not the first act the group claimed responsibility for. A year prior EMETIC sent a letter declaring they inflicted damage at the Fairfield Snow Bowl near Flagstaff. The group’s letter also included a jovial threat to “chain the Fairfield CEO to a tree at the 10,000-foot level and feed him shrubs and roots until he understands the suicidal folly of treating the planet primarily as a tool for making money.”

The group used an acetylene torch to cut bolts from several of the lift’s support towers, making them inoperable. Upon receiving the letter, the Arizona ski resort was forced to shut down the lift in order to do repairs, which rang up to over $50,000.

But the big allegations heaved at these eco-saboteurs weren’t for dislodging a few bolts at a quaint ski resort in the heart of the Arizona mountains, or for inconveniencing a few ski bums from their daily excursions. No, the big charges were levied at the group for allegedly plotting to disrupt the functions of the Rocky Flats nuclear facility hundreds of miles away. Ironically, at the moment of their arrests, the FBI was simultaneously looking into public health concerns due to an illegal radioactive waste leak at the nuclear power site, which led Earth First! activist Mike Roselle to quip, “ [the FBI] would have discharged its duty better by assisting in a conspiracy to cut power to Rocky Flats, instead of trying to stop one.”

***

Gerry Spence climbed into his private jet in Jackson, Wyoming estate almost immediately upon hearing about the FBI arrest of Dave Foreman in Arizona. Spence had made a name for himself among environmental activists in the late-1970s for his case against energy company Kerr-McGee, when he provided legal services to the family of former employee Karen Silkwood, who died suspiciously after she charged the company with environmental abuses at one of their most productive nuclear facilities. Silkwood, who made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors, had been assigned by her union to investigate health and safety concerns at a Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. In her monitoring of the facility, Silkwood found dozens of evident regulatory violations, including faulty respiratory equipment as well as many cases of workers being exposed to radioactive material.

Silkwood went public after her employer ignored her and her union’s concerns, even going as far as to testify to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about the issues, claiming that regulations were sidestepped in an attempt to up the speed of production. She also claimed that workers had been mishandling nuclear fuel rods, but the company has covered up the incidences by falsifying inspection reports.

On the night of November 13, 1974, Silkwood left a union meeting in Crescent with documents in hand to drive to Oklahoma City where she was to meet and discuss Kerr-McGee’s alleged violations with a union official and two New York Times reporters. She never made it. Silkwood’s body was found the next day in the driver’s seat of her car on the side of the road, stuck in a culvert. She was pronounced dead on the scene and no documents were found in her vehicle.

An independent private investigation revealed that Silkwood was in full control of her car when it was struck from behind and forced off to the side of the road. According to the private investigators, the steering wheel of her car was bent in a manner that showed conclusively that Silkwood was prepared for the blow of the accident as it occurred. She had not been asleep at the wheel as investigators initially thought. The coroner concluded she had not died as a result of the accident, but possibly from suffocation.

No arrests or charges were ever made. Silkwood’s children and father filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. Gerry Spence was their lead attorney. An autopsy of Silkwood’s body showed extremely high levels of plutonium contamination. Lawyers for Kerr-McGee argued first that the levels found were in the normal range. but after evidence was presented to the contrary, they were forced to argue that Silkwood had likely poisoned herself.

Spence had been victorious. Kerr-McGee’s defense was caught in a series of unavoidable contradictions. Silkwood’s body was laden with poison as a result of her work at the nuclear facility. In her death, Spence vindicated her well-documented claims. The initial jury verdict was for the company to pay $505,000 in damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. Kerr-McGee appealed and drastically reduced the jury’s verdict, but the initial ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court. On the way to a retrial, the company agreed to pay $1.38 million to the Silkwood estate.

Gerry Spence was not cowed by the antics of the Kerr-McGee Corporation, and when he agreed to take on Dave Foreman’s case pro-bono, justice seemed to be on the horizon for Earth First! activists as well.

“Picture a little guy out there hacking at a dead steel pole, an inanimate object, with a blowtorch. He’s considered a criminal,” said Spence, explaining how he planned to steer the narrative of Foreman’s pending trial. “Now see the image of a beautiful, living, 400-year-old-tree, with an inanimate object hacking away at it. This non-living thing is corporate America, but the corporate executives are not considered criminals at all.”

Like so many of the FBI charges brought against radical activists throughout the years, the case against Dave Foreman was less exciting than the investigation that led up to his arrest. The bureau had done its best to make Foreman and Earth First! out to be the most threatening activists in America.

Spence was not impressed and in fact argued as much, stating the scope of the FBI’s operation THERMCON was “very similar to the procedures the FBI used during the 1960s against dissident groups.” Spence was right. Similar to the movement disruption exemplified by COINTELPRO against Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement, the FBI’s crackdown on Earth First! in the late 1980s had many alarming parallels to the agency of old.

“Essentially what we need to understand is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was formed during the Palmer Raids in 1921, was set up from the very beginning to inhibit internal political dissent. They rarely go after criminals. They’re thought police,” said Foreman of the FBI’s motives for targeting environmentalists. “Let’s face it, that’s what the whole government is. Foreman’s first law of government reads that the purpose of the state, and all its constituent elements, is the defense of an entrenched economic elite and philosophical orthodoxy. Thankfully, there’s a corollary to that law—they aren’t always very smart and competent in carrying out their plans.”

The man who was paid to infiltrate Earth First! under the guise of THERMCON was anything but competent. Special agent Michael A. Fain, stationed in the FBI’s Phoenix office, befriended Peg Millet and began attending Earth First! meetings in the area. Fain, who went by the alias, Mike Tait, posed as a Vietnam vet who dabbled in construction and gave up booze after his military service. On more than one occasion, while wearing a wire, Fain had tried to entice members of Earth First! in different acts of vandalism. They repeatedly refused.

During pre-trial evidence discovery, the defense was allowed to listen to hours of Fain’s wire-tapings, when they found that the not-so-careful agent inadvertently forgot to turn off his recorder. Fain, while having a conversation with two other agents at a Burger King after a brief meeting with Foreman, spoke about the status of his investigation, exclaiming, “I don’t really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting people… [Dave Foreman] isn’t really the guy we need to pop — I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that’s all we’re really doing… Uh-oh! We don’t need that on tape! Hoo boy!”

Here the FBI was publicly vilifying these Earth First!ers, while privately admitting that they posed no real threat. “[The agency is acting] as if [its] dealing with the most dangerous, violent terrorists that the country’s ever known,” explained Spence at the time. “And what we are really dealing with is ordinary, decent human beings who are trying to call the attention of America to the fact that the Earth is dying.”

The FBI’s rationale for targeting Foreman was purely political as he was one of the most prominent and well-spoken radical environmentalists of the time. Despite their claims that they were not directly targeting Earth First! or Foreman, and were instead investigating threats of sabotage of power lines that led to a nuclear power plant — their public indictment painted quite a different story.

“Mr. Foreman is the worst of the group,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Dokken announced to the court. “He sneaks around in the background … I don’t like to use the analogy of a Mafia boss, but they never do anything either. They just sent their munchkins out to do it.”

But agent Michael Fain’s on-tape gaffes were simply too much for the prosecution to manage, and the case against Foreman, having been deferred almost seven years, was finally reduced in 1996 to a single misdemeanor and a meager $250 in fines. The $2 million the FBI wasted tracking Earth First! over the latter part of the 1980s had only been nominally successful. Yet the alleged ringleader was still free. Unfortunately, the FBI may have gotten exactly what they wanted all along. Dave Foreman later stepped down as spokesman to Earth First! and inherited quite a different role in the environmental movement — one of invisibility and near silence.

Peg Millet, Mark Davis, and Marc Baker were all sentenced separately in 1991 for their involvement in their group EMETIC’s acts of ecotage against the expansion of Arizona Snowbowl. Davis got 6 years and $19,821 in restitution. Millet only 3 years, with the same fine, while Baker only received 6 months and a $5,000 fine.

Little did these activists know that their capture and subsequent arraignments were only the beginning. THERMCON’s crackdown of Earth First! would prove to be a dry-run for the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net and trolled on Twitter @JSCCounterPunch. Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

Featured Image: by Robert J. Pleasants Papers, WWII 73, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

Red Lights Flashing for Wildlife

Red Lights Flashing for Wildlife

Editor’s Note: While climate change is taken as THE pressing ecological concern of current era, biodiversity loss is the often less known but probably more destructive ecological disaster. UNEP estimates we lose 200 species in a day. That is 200 species that are never going to walk the Earth again. With these, we lose 200 creatures that play a unique and significant part in the natural communities, and immeasurable contributions of each to the health of the nature.

This study finds 69% average drop in animal populations since 1970. Over those five decades most of the decline can be traced to habitat destruction. The human desire for ever more growth played out over the years, city by city, road by road, acre by acre, across the globe. It is to want a new cell phone and never give a second thought as to where it comes from. Corporations want to make money so they hire the poor who want only to feed their families and they cut down another swath of rainforest to dig a mine and with it a dozen species we haven’t even named yet die. Think about what goes into a house to live in and the wood that must come from somewhere, and the coal and the oil to power it, and to power the cars that take people from there to the store to buy more things. And on and on, that is the American Dream.


by Malavika Vyawahare / Mongabay

  • Wildlife populations tracked by scientists shrank by nearly 70%, on average, between 1970 and 2018, a recent assessment has found.
  • The “Living Planet Report 2022” doesn’t monitor species loss but how much the size of 31,000 distinct populations have changed over time.
  • The steepest declines occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where wildlife abundance declined by 94%, with freshwater fish, reptiles and amphibians being the worst affected.
  • High-level talks under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Canada this December, with representatives from 196 members gathering to decide how to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

In 2014, as temperatures topped 40° Celsius, or 104° Fahrenheit, in eastern Australia, half of the region’s black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) population perished, with thousands of the bats succumbing to the heat in one day.

This die-off is only one example of the catastrophic loss of wildlife unfolding globally. On average, wildlife populations tracked by scientists shrank by nearly 70% between 1970 and 2018, a recent assessment b WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) found.

“When wildlife populations decline to this degree, it means dramatic changes are impacting their habitats and the food and water they rely on,” WWF chief scientist, Rebecca Shaw, said in a statement. “We should care deeply about the unraveling of natural systems because these same resources sustain human life.”

WWF’s “Living Planet Report 2022,” launched this October, analyzed populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. “It is not a census of all wildlife but reports how wildlife populations have changed in size,” the authors wrote.

A black flying fox.
In 2014, as temperatures topped 40°C, or 104°F, in eastern Australia, half of the region’s black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) population perished, with thousands of the bats succumbing to the heat in one day. Image by Andrew Mercer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

A million species of plants and animals face extinction today, according to a landmark 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international scientific body. The new analysis uncovers another aspect of this biodiversity crisis: The decline of wild populations doesn’t just translate into species loss but can also heighten extinction risk, particularly for endemic species found only in one location.

Instead of looking at individual species, the Living Planet Index (LPI) on which the report is based tracks 31,000 distinct populations of around 5,000 species. If humans were considered, for example, it would like tracking the demographics of countries. Population declines in one country could indicate a localized threat like a famine, but it was happening across continents, that would be cause for alarm.

The steepest species declines occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where wildlife abundance dropped by 94% on average. In this region, freshwater fish, reptiles and amphibians were the worst affected.

Freshwater organisms are at very high risk from human activities worldwide. Most of these threats are linked to habitat loss, but overexploitation also endangers many animals. In Brazil’s Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, populations of Amazon pink river dolphin or boto (Inia geoffrensis) fell by 65% between 1994 and 2016. Targeted fishing of these friendly animals for their use as bait contributed to the decline.

Climatic changes render terrestrial habitats inhospitable too. In Australia, in the 2019-2020 fire season, around 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of forestland was destroyed, killing more than 1 billion animals and displacing 3 billion others. For southeastern Australia, scientists showed that human-induced climate change made the fires 30% more likely.

These losses are happening not just in land-based habitats but also out at sea. Coral reefs and vibrant underwater forests are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. But they’re being battered by a changing climate that makes oceans warmer and more acidic. The planet has already warmed by 1.2°C (2.2°F) since pre-industrial times, and a 2°C (3.6°F) average temperature rise will decimate almost all tropical corals.

However, the bat deaths in Australia, Brazil’s disappearing pink river dolphins, and the vulnerability of corals are extreme examples that can skew the index, which averages the change in population sizes. In fact, about half of wildlife populations studied remained stable and, in some cases, even grew. Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virunga Mountains spanning Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda number around 604 today, up from 480 in 2010.

Despite these bright spots, the overall outlook remains gloomy. Even after discounting the extremes, the downward trend persists. “After we removed 10 percent of the complete data set, we still see declines of about 65 percent,” Robin Freeman, an author of the report and senior researcher at ZSL, said in a statement.

Often, habitat loss, overexploitation and climate change compound the risk. Even in cases where a changing climate proves favorable, the multitude of threats can prove insurmountable. Take bumblebees, for example. Some species, like Bombus terrestris or the buff-tailed bumblebee, could actually thrive as average temperatures rise. But an assessment of 66 bumblebee species documented declining numbers because of pesticide and herbicide use.

The report emphasizes the need to tackle these challenges together. Protecting habitats like forests and mangroves can, for example, maintain species richness and check greenhouse gas emissions. The kinds of plants and their abundance directly impact carbon storage because plants pull in carbon from the atmosphere and store it as biomass.

A bumblebee on flowers.
An assessment of 66 bumblebee species documented declining numbers because of pesticide and herbicide use. Image by mikaelsoderberg via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

One of the deficiencies of the LPI is that it doesn’t include data on plants or invertebrates (including insects like bumblebees).

The report was released in the run-up to environmental summits that will see countries gather to thrash out a plan to rein in climate change in November and later in the year to reverse biodiversity loss. Government leaders are set to meet for the next level of climate talks, called COP27, in Egypt from Nov. 6-13. At the last meeting of parties, known as COP26 in Glasgow, U.K., last year, nations committed to halt biodiversity loss and stem habitat destruction, partly in recognition that this would lower humanity’s carbon footprint.

In December, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Montreal. Representatives from 195 states and the European Union will meet to decide the road map to 2030 for safeguarding biodiversity.

Citations:

Herbertsson, L., Khalaf, R., Johnson, K., Bygebjerg, R., Blomqvist, S., & Persson, A. S. (2021). Long-term data shows increasing dominance of Bombus terrestris with climate warming. Basic and Applied Ecology, 53, 116-123. doi:10.1016/j.baae.2021.03.008

Herbertsson, L., Khalaf, R., Johnson, K., Bygebjerg, R., Blomqvist, S., & Persson, A. S. (2021). Long-term data shows increasing dominance of Bombus terrestris with climate warming. Basic and Applied Ecology, 53, 116-123. doi:10.1016/j.baae.2021.03.008

Outhwaite, C. L., McCann, P., & Newbold, T. (2022). Agriculture and climate change are reshaping insect biodiversity worldwide. Nature,605(7908), 97-102. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04644-x  

Sobral, M., Silvius, K. M., Overman, H., Oliveira, L. F. B., Raab, T. K., & Fragoso, J. M. V. 2017. Mammal diversity influences the carbon cycle through trophic interactions in the Amazon. Nature Ecology & Evolution,1, 1670–1676. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0334-0

Featured image by Hans-Jurgen Mager via Unsplash

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

This is part 1 of an episode of the Green Flame. This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Michel Jacobi. Michel Jacoboi is a German, but he’s living in the Western part of Ukraine trying to reverse breed some of the extinct large animals of the European countryside back into existence and work with these creatures as assistants and as allies, in the process of restoring the land. Part 2 of the episode is with Lierre Keith, author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years, will be featured shortly.


Max: I’m here today with Michel Jacobi. Michel is somebody who’s becoming an expert in local food; in relocalisation; in rewilding of lanscapes using animals as allies, friends and community members in that process. Michel, could you tell us a little bit about you, who are you and what your work is and where you’re located?

Michel: Yes, I’m a German forestry engineer and I came 11 years ago from Germany and started to build up a farm for rare domestic breeds, and have been rescuing the water buffaloes that exist here in the mountains of Western Ukraine. It’s the Carpathian mountains, where we still have huge diversity. And some part of the landscape has once been all over Central Europe, because here we have the biggest virgin forest of Fagus Sylvatica, the European red beach.

So I was first interested to rescue these trees and the forest systems. I realized that the communities here – the locals are called Ruthianians – they are still quite powerful. The national parks that are located here they cannot save anything if they are not working with the locals together. So I started with the shepherds here, I learned the local dialect and collected some money in Switzerland with my NGO and could buy a few animals that had been in the slaughterhouse. They were male buffaloes, and after a while, I was the only one in the whole state that was breeding or keeping male water buffaloes.

So then I became quite famous among those people that still have water buffaloes and I helped them to keep them by exchanging the males from village to village so that the people can afford to keep females. The males are quite cost intensive and our NGO was managing this and through that I got quite famous. The circumstances here are quite hard and nearly no foreigners are living here. Most people from Zakarpattia go abroad to work and just live here in their free time. So, our NGO is still now, more or less, the only nature/environmental NGO that is working in the whole state and we are not only saving water buffaloes but we keep very rare Hucul horses, that is the local mountain pony with Zebra stripes. It is very close to the extinct Tarpan that once lived here in the mountains.

We also started to rescue a rare cow breed. I realised that the cow is a very central part of a self-sufficient community and people really loved what I’m doing. The local people felt they remembered former times because I learned from the shepherds how things used to be. They are quite old school. So even the richer locals started supporting me and I made cheese products from the buffaloes, from the buffalo milk, which is also quite unique because the water buffaloes are quite special in their behaviour. They are highly intelligent animals so it was weird for the locals that a German engineer is able to milk those buffaloes.

I learned from the buffaloes that you cannot force them, you have to act with them like a child. When you use force of violence they will refuse to give you anything. The local people here seem to be very traumatised by this collapsed regime that was here till the 90s So they forget how to keep those buffaloes and they told me like 60 or 70 years ago there had been thousands of them. When I arrived in 2008 I could just find 38 animals. Now we have more than 100 to 180 and they are in several projects such as rewilding Ukraine.

They keep the buffaloes in national parks and I started several farms just supporting people. We (me and my girlfriend) just have seven animals now but we’re managing five bull lines to keep up the diversity and live self-sufficiently. Having a garden, planting trees and exchanging products is called barter. I have a very nice family in Germany. Each time, when I had huge trouble I could go home and work there and make some money and bring it here to buy the hay because it was not always easy. When you rely on tourism or on external money, then there’s always something that can happen. I learned to just be on my own and to have very high diversification in my pro and my income.

Max: So you’re in what part of Ukraine exactly? It is the Western portion?

Michel: Yeah it’s the most Southwest part. Some geologists or geographers measured the center of Europe here. So we have a tourist station which says it’s the centre of Europe. It’s around 300 kilometers East of Budapest and close to Prague. In fact, there is no real industry or big cities around. It’s a very privileged micro-climate that we have here. It’s at the beginning of the large Pannonian basin which is like a steppe area and we are at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains which is the largest connected ecosystem of Europe.

Max: So I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit more about the aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot. With the coronavirus crisis having swept around the world, it kind of remains to be seen exactly how intense it’s going to get and how many people are going to be killed. There were some estimates in the beginning that now are looking like they were a little too high, right? It’s looking like the virus is less lethal than a lot of the early estimates put it.

But one repercussion of what we have seen with coronavirus is this semi-collapse in globalisation. We’ve seen plane flights grounded we’ve seen the collapse of air travel, we have seen borders closed and because of that, we’ve seen food shortages in various areas. And I think a lot of people are maybe recognising in a way that they wouldn’t have recognised a month or two ago that globalisation and having this globalised supply chain for our food systems is maybe not such a good idea.

So I know here in my area – I live in the Western United States – and here in this area for example chickens, garden stores, seeds, nurseries, all of those type of businesses have been flourishing and exploding because thousands and thousands and thousands of people are recognising all of a sudden that local food and self-sufficiency is an incredibly important thing.

I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the relocalisation of food and it seems like you’re sort of trying to revive this pastoral way of life. So can you talk about why this is important and why you know how you contrast that to the dominant culture today?

Michel: This culture here, the Ruthenian people, have been into serious trouble over the last 150 years. Different empires were always coming here, like the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and several Hungarians have been very cruel here. In the Soviet Union, mass people were killed because they were just farming.

When I talk to the people and say “we have a crisis,” they just start laughing because they say they are in a permanent state of crisis. In fact, they are not really touched by any world economic crisis because they have learned over the years to be self-sufficient. What that means is that everybody has two hectares of land for himself and his family and they share common land. So, common land is probably the key issue because for any self-sufficient gardening, you need the nutrition. The traditional way is that you keep a cow, or you keep a horse and a goat or whatever like this, like large herbivores that bring the nutrition from the field to your house to the garden. And with this manure you’re able to grow the vegetables and even feed the orchards. So those two hectares people have around is one important part. Potatoes, beans, onions, carrots and beetroots are the basic foundations of their survival.

At the beginning I did not have any garden. People were quite confused because growing potatoes is such an easy thing. I wasn’t used to it because in Germany it is not normal that you have any land where you can grow potatoes. In fact it’s really small land that you need for it and those highly productive plants like sweetcorn or beans you can grow on small areas.

These people have been teaching me how to do the gardening. The funny thing is that they are combining a very old calendar with their orthodox church. It’s a calendar that is oriented on the stars and moon and so on, it tells you when you can see which plants. Sometimes you have a freezing time that is heading in and when you plant something too early it will just die or when you plant it too late you will not have any results. So, it’s a little bit tricky and you should be connected to them, and to somebody that has some experience.

But with like a small greenhouse, anybody can start and have beautiful results and the interesting thing is when you have your own vegetable it’s like a synergy effect, it’s not only fun, it’s very healthy. You have something you can share in your community. It brings some type of pride when you produce something with your hands. You’re digging with the dirt and it’s like a healing ritual. So I recommend to anybody, even if it’s not necessary just do it as a hobby. If you are like really into it, you can start to grow your own seeds which can be a very high science, especially when we look at the different flowers that you can produce with corn.

I was once renting a small house in the mountains and I had always about two or three volunteers at the same time because of WWOOFing and things like that. An old lady, who was more than 83 years at the time, was able to feed me and two volunteers every day with at least one nice completely self-made meal. It means that you can, with your own garden, achieve a very high production and it’s not so work intensive. Now in the spring, when you believe in the digging, then you have to do quite a lot. But there is a very high result from very little work. When you invest like two or three hours a day, you have a really really big garden that can feed your whole family.

I think this is the main thing for building up anything. Because out of this home ground, you can be relaxed and you can start thinking about any problem in the world in a completely new way and a new perspective. It’s your ground and the common fields are defended by your community. Nobody can go there, no investor can go and say “I will take away your common ground and plant some genetically modified crops there and spray glucosate” or whatever. The community is depending on it so they will just burn down their machines and that’s what those people here are about. That’s the reason why there is no foreign investor, no big companies.

People don’t want anybody to use their common land because they are depending on it. And this new food that you have in your cellar the whole winter gives you the opportunity to do anything. Even if you get fired from your additional job, you always know you can come home and your granny is living at home and taking care of the children or the neighbor’s children or whatever.

With this gardening, a family structure is like this. There is the inner circle: the house. In the house, there is the oven you heat with firewood. Outside the house there is the well and the garden. The children are playing around and the granny is taking care of the children. Mostly here it’s a traditional way such that the wife is closer to the house and doing some gardening. The man is in the forest. They even have a community forest here so you can go and chop your own wood. I have to be honest, it’s a really great feeling. For example, when you start to cut hay, it’s a big activity in the summer. It brings everybody together. When you are out there with around twenty men cutting the hay of the grass with very sharp sickles from very early in the morning, you are singing and drinking together and it has such a strong energy.

It fees like people here have their secret language. When you don’t have you own potatoes and you don’t have your cow at home and you don’t speak the local dialect–which is pretty weird and survived over the last few hundred years–then people say “yeah they are the strangers and the tourists or whatever or the occupants.” When you have those things, you’re one of them. It was such an incredible feeling when they started to call me one of them. It makes feel like I’m not afraid of anything anymore because I’m now part of a bigger thing, a community which you cannot easily dismantle. There were many situations where it was helping me and giving me such a deeper inner freedom. Out of this I can now go out and do my research anyway.

I’m still different because I am not drinking with the locals (no alcohol). But I read. So people come here and want to know information and so on. And so it’s like this synergy that comes up with the community. That is such a great feeling.  I just can’t recommend it enough to anybody to build up such a structure. This is how it was in old Europe. And I feel at home here because my family or my roots are in this central European culture like the Celtics. They have also been living here. The people are of Slavic culture here, but they realize that the Celts have been living here. Everybody has to find his own place where he can resonate with the location. I tried to live in Bolivia but it was not possible, although I liked the political system but I feel like this European oak forest is the one that resonates with me the most.

Today, all day long, I was pestering my animals in the oak forest and it’s just wow because even the oak forest is feeding you with a lot. With mushrooms, they call it the meat of the forest. You can harvest all those non-timber forest products beside the wood and this gives you an even deeper connection. You know why you should keep this forest alive. You start to love it. Nobody can just come and buy it from you. Not even the state government is able to do illegal logging. Everybody who is picking mushrooms in the forest knows how much is allowed to take out and how much healthier it is for the forest. There is a very healthy and very strong community that takes care for the nature here.

The only problem here is the plastic garbage. People are not able to deal with plastic garbage because it’s quite new to this community. They don’t even know what it means. They don’t know what dioxin or what can oil do to the water. That’s a problem but that’s the reason why they contact me so much because I read, I’m an ecologist, and try to tell them how to handle plastic garbage

Max: It’s interesting I was just in the Philippines about a month ago doing some organising work down there and spent time in a rural agrarian community that sounds like it has some similarities to the community that you’re working in. It’s mostly people living in a small village. The houses are clustered together in small areas with some communal fields and some individually owned fields around. And then there’s also a jungle nearby that the community protects from deforestation and development. Even though at times in the past they themselves, or their ancestors, have cut trees in that area.

They’ve begun to develop stronger ecological ethics. There are a few similarities with the community that you’re talking about. First is living in this small community that’s rooted in a place where you know everyone in your village and they all know you. And the second similarity that I’m thinking about is the sense of the protection of the land and how powerful that can be when it’s shared in a community. And in the place that I was in, the Southwest part of the Northern island of Luzon, there is this village that when they would hear a chainsaw running in the forest everyone would just drop what they were doing and run to find the chainsaw. Because that often meant there was some illegal logging going on. I didn’t hear that happening while I was there. But they had developed a shared ethic that logging in this forest was unacceptable. And they’re doing restoration work and planting native trees and working to restore the forest starting with pioneer species and so to help restore their water cycle.

The third similarity actually would be the plastic garbage because similarly this community didn’t really have plastic coming into their community until relatively recently, perhaps maybe in the past, maybe a couple decades. So the idea of having a trash service or having a landfill or something like that is just a foreign concept.

We live in the United States and in Germany and the ubiquity of trash and garbage is so intense that there’s so much of it, it’s everywhere. People have figured that we got to make a giant pile of it somewhere and basically sacrifice this land to put all this poisonous substance in it. And then bulldoze over with soil and pretend that it will be fine there.

It’s pretty fascinating to be in a place where that reality just goes so unquestioned. In so many places around the world is new.

Michel: Yeah definitely. I think it’s a phenomenon that was for many thousands of years all over the world. When we look even in the amazon, we are talking now about jungle gardens there, which is something that modern people call an agroforestry system. But it’s not a virgin forest at all. For example, the Brazil knot is a plantation and underneath you can have chocolate trees. And here it’s more or less the same system with the oaks and then the orchards. You have pears and apples and plums and then around this the chickens and so on.

Additionally, this community is working on it. In fact, those orchards here and pastoral forests have the highest diversity in Europe. That means that the nature had the longest period to adapt to it. I think that’s a sign that it has been here for a very long time. All those insects and flowers had a long time to adapt to those systems. They are established here. This is also what they took away, like, in Germany. When they conquered Germany, or when the ruling class got more powerful in the 16th century, we had those uprisings of farmers that fought for the common land. Once the common land was given to the ruling class, the farmers became slaves because they had to pay to use the land and pay the tax and so on. It’s such a weird thing that you can just buy land with money.

Here in Ukraine now, they started to introduce this system too. Summer next year 2021 will be a large moratorium on the land going because of the credits the World Bank was giving them. Others like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) forced farmers to give away their land to be privatized so it means that now is the last time we have seen this common land in central Europe. This area is mostly primitive. But I would say that it’s not really advanced when you make people dependent on the money system which is not sustainable.

Max: Right. Yeah it’s fascinating and that’s sort of the pattern that we’ve seen again and again around the world with the IMF or the World Bank, or the US or China or whatever sort of foreign development oriented financial power. Now colonization has evolved from sort of the direct invasion and violence and direct occupation that we’ve seen in the past, although that of course still happens, but this sort of financial form of colonization is so powerful. The amount of damage that has been done by these capitalist ideal ideologues at places like the IMF and the World Bank is pretty stunning. And it’s continuing so I’m not surprised. It’s horrible that what you’re talking about and that’s coming to Ukraine.

And that’s what they always do right. They offer loans and they hold some sort of collateral over your head that you have to change these policies or basically move towards more of a “free market system” if you want access to these international “development loans” right.

Michel: Yeah and that’s the reason we should show the people how important the commons are. Here it’s still not too late and I’m using my popularity to talk with the people about commons. It was taken away step by step. Maybe it was by accident, but it looks like first Europe opening the border for the workers. They all went abroad and worked in the Czech republic. That means that in order to make some money they left the old lady, or the babushka as they call them, with the cow and the children. In most cases, it’s too much work just for one person to run the self-sufficient farm. So they sold the cow. That means they don’t need the common land anymore. Now, they come in and say, “You don’t need the common land, so let’s give it to privatization.” Nobody will really complain about it. So hopefully this corona virus or this coming crisis that’s intensifying the system will teach the people that it is important to use the commons to be independent of this economical fluctuation or convince them to not give up their traditions.

I have some hope that the communities are still strong enough to fight back this development that’s coming in the next years. But in other countries, we have seen how it worked and it’s good that we are talking about it now on an international level and using the English language to tell each other like how it has been like in the Philippines, or in Africa, in Ethiopia, in South America Then we can use that to teach the people here.

Do you want this to happen in your country? Look at Chile and look at those guys. Look where they are now.

Ukraine is just like five or ten years behind this development. We can show them by pointing out those examples where the IMF, like in Argentina, was privatizing everything. I know that those people don’t want to live like in Argentina. We just have to make it visible for them and show them what it means and they have the facilities. They have the strength to fight back.

One major thing here in Ukraine is that they completely exchanged the police 10 years ago or 5 years ago. We called it militia. Now it’s completely new cars, completely well equipped people. It’s not the local sheriff anymore that everybody knows.When the local sheriff does something weird, the next morning his window is broken or something. Now there are faceless weird guys from the other cities or from somewhere else. Nobody knows them. They’re called police and they are driving around on the worst road you can imagine with the highest advanced electric cars. Everybody is a little bit suspicious about this new development. Now I understand why: the IMF is asking back for not money because officially they are bankrupt here but for their resources.

And we are talking about the biggest country of Europe with incredible resources. A lot of people in Europe didn’t know that Ukraine is so rich. People have heard maybe of this black soil somewhere in central Ukraine but when you look here in the hills it’s completely covered in old growth forest. We are living directly at the Romanian border, which has been a part of European Union since 2007. There, it’s naked. They cut down everything. Just open google maps and look at the border region of Romania. Ukraine is completely covered in forest. Once Ukraine and Romania were the same region. It was called the Maramureș region here. So it’s the same culture, the same ecosystem, and so on, and in Romania. Everything was chopped down. And it started a little bit before 2007 but it’s European countries.

Max: Absolutely. And I think so many people take a sort of fatalistic attitude towards that. That everything is getting worse no matter what we do and we’re headed for doom. But it seems to me that the opposite is true in a lot of ways. I mean the seed of a future world, of a just world, of a sustainable world is contained in the present. And it seems like the destruction that goes on, the control, the colonization, the clear cutting; all of these issues–it shows how the dominant culture and ruling class has to work extremely hard to contain the natural world. To contain human beings who just want to live in good ways on their local land with their communities and their families.

And just to go back to a couple of the points you were making earlier we’re seeing some of the same trends play out here in the United States. Obviously this country has been controlled by a powerful ruling class and exploited for a long time. All the land here is stolen from indigenous people but we’re still seeing this ongoing privatization process. This ongoing process of economic colonization and exploitation, that now one of the frontiers of it is, there’s quite a lot of federally owned public land in this country and the far right and the ruling class are really pushing to privatize that land and to put it into private hands. So right now near where I live for example, there are national forests where you can go out and wander in the woods and harvest mushrooms and harvest wild edible plants and you can legally camp there for up to two weeks at a time in almost any location. And that’s not to say it’s a paradise because a lot of that land is logged periodically, there is a little bit of old growth forest remaining here and there but about 98% of the old growth forest in the US has been cut down.

But the point is that there is still this public land that is open to the people. That is held in common in some way and it’s not an as ideal of situation as sort of land that’s held in common at a village or a community or regional level but we do have that in this country. It’s under threat right now. And the other point that I just wanted to make real quick to go back, you were talking about how bio-diverse these oak forests are in your region and that’s something that we actually see in this area too.

I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and this area has two species of oaks the Gary oak or white oak and the California black oak. Both of those species really benefit from fire and so historically the indigenous people of this area, the Calipuya and other nations, would burn, they would set intentional fires which would keep the landscape open and in more of a woodland or Savannah type regime where you had widely spaced trees.This created a hyper abundance of acorns from the oak trees, a hyper abundance of wildlife who would come to eat the acorns, and this lush grass that would grow up in the burned meadows. And then a big abundance of some of these root crops that would naturally grow in the open meadow areas. And so when the first European colonizers arrived in this particular valley here they said it would be full of smoke the entire summer because of all the fires that would be set by the indigenous people.

And it’s interesting to note that, so many people used to think that humans are inherently destructive and no matter where we go humans are like a cancer. But the reality is that the humans in this area did impact the land pretty heavily. They changed the natural ecology around them quite intensively but they actually did it in a way that increased biodiversity and increased the resilience of the natural system. And so it’s very interesting to me that some people seem to think humans are inherently destructive when there are so many examples of people living in ways where people are provided with an abundant life and abundant food from the land and their life actually enhances the biodiversity and health of the land around them.

Michel: Yeah exactly, this is my experience too. It’s such a great example. It completely shifts my point of view on humans too. This major question: is a man a wolf or a sheep? Are they good to each other, or bad? Here in this case, every spring, we have been so angry about this burning of the grassland and of these blackberries and so on. But now when you go out where people are putting their time and their power into the land, digging with, not with heavy machines but working with their hands and with their animals, you have an absolute increase of diversity.

And when I go here with tourists, I go with them to show them the beach forest which is like a car zone of the bios ferry reservation and it’s completely boring. You just have like those 300 year old trees which are covering the sunlight from the ground and you have some dead wood and some bugs and beetles of course. But it is really, really, boring in comparison with the oak forest where you have like heavy grazing and the acorn you’re mentioning is like feeding the sheep and the shepherds are going through there and singing. You have different types of flowers all over the year because the sunlight goes to the ground It’s absolutely true that the humans are such a great thing for nature.

It comes back to this idea: when I was in University, I was told about this overkill theory. It says that after the last ice age, humans advanced in building weapons to kill those mega-heavy wars. But the latest theory by Graham Hancock is that there was an asteroid or something twelve thousand or eleven thousand six hundred years ago and this changed the civilization and the amount of mega heavy force existing. And with this major change, there came other tree species and other ways of living together.

But what it shows me, is that humans are not really so bad that they kill everything up to the last one. It seems to be that it’s not such a bad history for the last 20,000 years. It’s just the last probably 200 or 300 years where we decided to use fire weapons and the chainsaw and this oil based petroleum industry which is really seriously changing the environment. Here people say a man should be able to do everything so you need to be able to make your own clothes. You need to be able to chop your own boat in the forest, you need to be. You need to know how to milk a cow, how to make cheese, how to do gardening, and how to repair a car. And when we start to get specialized like sitting on in the office and at a computer, they lose these abilities to really do something satisfying.

For example, I can work a few hours on the computer. But then I go out and pester my animals or cut some hay, do some gardening and then meet with friends. It’s so much more fulfilling and I have no need for any distraction like when I was living in the city. I was drinking beer and I was trying to distract myself and now it is like I’m waking up with a smile and going to sleep and having good dreams. So all of this civilization, like the diseases of civilization, starts to disappear when you start to manage your own piece of land with all the community that is involved in this way.

I have met so many people in Germany that have depression. But when people from the city come here and help me for a while they start smiling. They come out and those animals have a very, very, positive effect on your soul. Because as soon as you realize this is not a stupid hybrid cow, this is a very, very, ancient animal that is voluntarily working with you together.

Even when you look at the shit, it’s not a piece of shit. You turn it around and it’s full with life. You cannot even count two seconds when the shit is falling out of the animal, flies are on it in seconds using all those nutrition. And then the birds are coming sitting on the animals and singing in the morning and waking you up like this. The whole rhythm in yourself becomes more natural and it feels good and it gives you power. i don’t have to go to the gym or need any special nutrition because from those old breeds, the milk and the cheese is so healthy.

My girlfriend and I were both vegetarians when we came here. But it’s so like of course, in the city you’re a vegetarian because you cannot eat this mass-produced stuff. But here, it’s just, it’s just you cannot be vegetarian because of course we have to kill from time to time a male animal. You have to because they are fighting heavily. You have to take it out, if not, then they kill each other. What do you do with the meat and the fur? We’re just using everything and making a soup with the vegetables that we have in the garden. And all this bouillon we call it, is the foundation for most of the food we are preparing here, like even pasta. So it means the nutrition and this lifestyle that the animals give you, feels really, really, powerful.

Max: So Michel, we like to finish off every interview with a similar question and the question is around skills. So you know we’re living in these pretty dire times right. Things seem to be getting worse around the world and we have to figure out how to turn that around. So there are a lot of people who want to contribute to movements for justice, for sustainability, but don’t know where to start or what exactly to do.

So the final question for you is given this, what skill, or what skills, do you think are most important for people who are listening to this interview, to cultivate?

Michel: Yeah there’s an interesting movement, like the tiny house movement. So when you start with your tiny house that is out dark, you can move it somewhere. You have the chance to occupy a piece of land and when nobody is working on the land it means they don’t take responsibility, you have the right to use it.

I don’t know where you are in the world but here when I don’t use my land then other people can come and use it. That’s an unwritten law. So I’m trying this, I’m doing it here and I just go where I see nobody have been cutting grass and I put there my tiny house. I put electric fences around, and keep the animals that feed me. And this is attracting other people because they are interested in what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. And with them I can communicate and it resonates with them so for this I’m a good example for those people.

And you can build up a community structure which is essential for any further action. Because in this direct democracy, in this decision making process where you include those people that are interested in working with the land, you can discuss the problems that you’re facing and how to solve them in your little community. In our case, and in cases I have seen all around the world from Portugal or here in Romania, you can teach the people with good examples because everyone needs those examples.

So you have to be the shining example, first for yourself. My teachers are those large primitive herbivores. You can learn a lot from them. Just take a horse like the Mustang in North America and try to work with him and he will teach you. And out of this knowledge, you are shining example for those people surrounding you and trying to get away from fossil fuels. Bring yourself into a situation where you have to think “how can I do this?” And it’s not that you handicap yourself. You will see you have to think much more and become creative and out of this energy you get new energy. It’s like this synergistic effect that comes. You will realize that with this creativity you can move more than most people think. You just have to start very small with your minimalist tiny house and start occupying land and living with animals.

Max: Well thank you so much for joining us today. That was a great conversation Michel.

Michel: Yeah very nice to hear from you Max.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Want to know more about collapse?

This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.

You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook

 

Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Editor’s note: On September 16, a 22 year-old woman (Mahsa Amini) was brutally tortured and killed by the Iranian state for improper wearing of hijab. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made a public statement that the protests happening in the country are being backed by the Western countries, and that Mahsa Amini was not tortured in their prison. Given the history of US-backed regime changes across the world from Central and South Americas to the Middle East, including Iran itself, concerns among anti-imperialists about the recent protests are not an indication of paranoia.

Whether or not the protests are backed by imperialist tendencies of the West, the plight of the women of Iran should not be discarded either. For the past forty decades of theocratic rule in Iran, women’s human rights have been violated in more than one occasion. They have faced many injustices, the death of Mahsa Amini and of the hundreds of people (especially young women) who protested her death is just the latest of which. Regardless of the West’s imperialist tendencies, these injustices should be addressed first and foremost.

The following statement was released by Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women (DOIW) on September 23. Since then, many protestors have been killed, arrested and persecuted.


Victory to the united struggle of the brave women and men of Iran; For liberty, and freedom from theocratic tyranny and the repeal of all laws that undermine women’s human rights!

Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women(DOIW) emphatically condemns the killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini, by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We convey our condolences to Mahsa’s grieving family and to all freedom-loving women and men of Iran. The regime’s Guidance Patrol arrested this young woman of 22 as she travelled on Tehran’s Metro with her brother under the pretext of having “bad hijab”. As a result of the brutality of the regime’s guidance patrol and beatings while in custody, Mahsa Amini died in hospital on 16th September. This new crime of the Islamic Republic has provoked the anger of the long-suffering people of Iran. The name and memory of Mahsa Amini has turned into a rallying cry for the people who have come out to the streets to rise up against oppression, dictatorship and social injustice. On Mahsa’s temporary gravestone, is written: “Darling Gina, you won’t die, your name will become a code”. Today, Mahsa Amini’s name has indeed become the rallying cry for the people rising for freedom.

In the past forty years, the reactionary Islamic regime of Iran has used systematic violence to secure its self-interest, and to trample shamelessly on the social and human rights of the people of Iran, particularly the women of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has presided over deepening poverty, economic and social insecurity, promoted the practice of embezzlement and hypocrisy in the state, has plundered the national wealth for the personal interest of the ruling elite and their associates, and has been directly responsible for violence and crimes against countless women and men. These have ranged from the forced hejab and medieval laws against women, to the torture, rape and execution of hundreds of girls and women supporters of left-wing organisations or mojaheds during the 1980s, or the mass killings of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, the execution of Fatemeh Modaresi, the consultant member of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran in 1989, the brutal murder of other dissidents such as Parvaneh Forouhar in the 1990s, and Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Bani Yaqub, among others, in the torture chambers of the regime, and the murder of Neda Agha Soltan in street demonstrations. These atrocities continue to this day and the people have had enough.

The regime’s denial of responsibility over the death of Mahsa Amini has fuelled people’s anger. At first the regime claimed that Mahsa had died due to ill health, something that her family have denied vehemently. The regime’s contradictory position on this tragedy, mimics their denials and lies immediately after the Revolutionary Guards’ downing of the Ukrainian plane over Iran in December 2019.

The people of Iran have been living with the fallout of the regime’s neoliberal policies, with its resultant poverty, deepening class divide and prevalent corruption, with the poor, women and the young bearing the brunt, and they have little to lose in this unequal fight.

Street clashes continue to rage in more than 80 cities and towns in Iran, despite access to the internet having been curtailed to stop communications. The women and men of our country have shown indescribable courage to stand against the brutal security forces of the regime and despite the heavy cost in this unequal struggle – fists against bullets – they are holding fast. The echo of people’s slogans conveys their demands: “Death to Dictatorship”, “Down with Theocracy”, and latterly “Woman, Life, Freedom” – a slogan that has emerged in these protests to reflect women’s particular aspirations – is a reminder of Marx’s position that a society is only free when its women are free. Today, the women of Iran are fighting courageously for their freedom and for the freedom of the society from theocracy.

Mahsa

Woman, life, freedom” by TheGfarce is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since Thursday 22nd September, different organisations, including Iran Human Rights have announced that at least 31 have been killed in the protests. Some reports put this figure at 50. There are reports of the arrest of a large number of protesters, including reporters, civic and political activists, women, students and former political prisoners. At present the prisons of Iran are full of workers’ rights activists, teachers, national minorities, religious minorities such as the Baha’is, dissenters, artists, and students.

At present, the Islamic Republican regime continues its brutal suppression, cutting off the internet and access to social networks. In 2019 during the people’s uprising, more than 600 innocent people were killed among them 23 children and youngsters under the age of 18. The regime cut off the internet then too (killing with the lights out), and shamelessly lowered the official number killed to 224 people instead. Then the regime accepted no responsibility for its atrocities, and in September 2022, the regime is repeating its brutal suppression of the people as before.

Today, too, the regime’s guns are aiming at the hearts of the women and youth of Iran. Ra’isi, the President of the regime, was one of the main perpetrators of the murder of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Just as he spoke of human rights at the UN General Assembly, on the 21st of September, the 15 year old Abdollah Mohammadpur, and the 16 year old Amin Ma’refat were shot dead by the regime’s armed police. The mass arrests continue all over Iran.

DOIW condemns the brutal suppression of the people and believes that victory in the fierce struggle that is ahead of us, for democratic rights and freedoms, social justice, and an end to discrimination, in other words, the realisation of the protesters’ demand “Woman, Life, Liberty”, can be secured only through the united struggle of all progressive social and political forces and the dismantling of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran. Our victory depends on the separation of religion from the state, and the establishment of a national and democratic republic in Iran.

Finally, the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women, appeals to all progressive forces the world over, especially progressive women’s organisations, to condemn this latest atrocity perpetrated by the Islamicists in Iran- the arrest and killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini under the pretext of carrying out “religious laws and decrees”- and condemning the killings in Iran especially of our young people, and to condemn the detention of freedom fighters in our country. With your solidarity you can extend the reach of these protests and let our brave people’s call for justice be heard worldwide.

Solidarity with Iranian Protests (52383249139)” by Matt Hrkac from Geelong / Melbourne, Australia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Statement by the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women

23rd September 2022

 

Banner Photo by Artin Bakhan on Unsplash

Road Network Spreads Destruction Across Amazon

Road Network Spreads Destruction Across Amazon

Editor’s note: Roads in the middle of wildlife, both illegal and legal, cause habitat fragmentation. This, in turn, impacts wildlife. They disturb migration routes of many animals. Many die in roadkill. Some are more likely to be killed than others, affecting the population balance between species. The light pollution alters the circadian rhythms. Other forms of pollution affects other aspects of their lives. Learn more about the impacts of roads on wildlife here.

The following article demonstrates how, in addition to that, roads (mainly unofficial roads) are causing a widespread deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, one of the largest remaining rainforests. Amazon is home to not only some rare species of flora and fauna, but also to some of the last remaining uncontacted peoples in the world. Destruction of Amazon is an annihilation of these species and the lifestyles of these people.


By /Mongabay

  • A groundbreaking study using satellite data and an artificial intelligence algorithm shows how the spread of unofficial roads throughout the Amazon is driving widespread deforestation.
  • One such road is on the verge of cutting across the Xingu Socioenvironmental Corridor, posing a serious risk of helping push the Amazon beyond a crucial tipping point.
  • Unprotected public lands account for 25% of the total illegal road network, with experts saying the creation of more protected areas could stem the spread and slow both deforestation and land grabs.
  • Officially sanctioned roads, such as the Trans-Amazonian Highway, also need better planning to minimize their impact and prevent the growth of illegal offshoots, experts say.

The Americas have a long history of occupation based on the destruction of nature and the violent massacre of native peoples, all in the name of a particular idea of “progress.” Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985, embraced this ideology to the point it had a specific motto — “integrate to not surrender” — for its nationalist project for the Amazon Rainforest. That mindset is still alive in the systemic and uncontrolled spread of unofficial roads in the Amazon, and the extent of this destruction is becoming increasingly clear.

A study by the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon identified 3.46 million kilometers (2.15 million miles) of roads in what’s known as the Legal Amazon, an administrative region that spans the nine Brazilian states located within the Amazon Basin. The researchers estimated that at least 86% of the extent of these roads are unofficial, “built by loggers, goldminers, and unauthorized land settlements from existing official roads.” The sprawling network of roads also means that 41% of the Amazon Rainforest is already cut by roads or lies within 10 km (6 mi) of one.

While two-thirds of the road extent identified in the study is on private properties and settlements, the other third is on public lands. Here, unofficial roads have mushroomed, particularly in public areas without special protection from the government. The roads in these public areas run 854,000 km (531,000 mi), accounting for a quarter of the total in the Amazon.

According to Imazon, roads in these areas point to criminal activities such as illegal logging, mining, and land grabbing. The study also shows that 5% of the road network is inside conservation units, and 3% within Indigenous territories, running a total 280,000 km (174,000 mi) inside these ostensibly protected areas.

“These are arteries of destruction,” study co-author Carlos Souza Jr., an associate researcher at Imazon who coordinates the institute’s Amazon monitoring program, told Mongabay by phone. “The roads are opened to extract wood, and the ramifications spread from the main line, where the trucks and heavy machinery are.” He added the degradation is followed by the occupation of these areas, in what’s become a very familiar pattern in the Amazon.

According to Souza, previous studies estimated the length of official roads at around 80,000 km (nearly 50,000 mi) in the Brazilian Amazon, composed of federal, state and municipal highways and roads in official settlements, all of which are part of the planned infrastructure.

But the official numbers are much lower. The Federal Department for Transport Infrastructure (DNIT) told Mongabay in an email that it acknowledges 23,264 km (14,455 mi) of paved and unpaved roads within the Legal Amazon. That’s a tiny fraction of the more than 3 million km of mostly undocumented roads that Imazon identified in the region.

“Roads created without planning by municipalities, states and the federal government don’t appear on official maps,” Souza said, “but they end up being incorporated into the municipal network, demanding public money for their maintenance.”

The Imazon study, published in July in the journal Remote Sensing, used 2020 images from the Sentinel-2 satellite made available by the European Space Agency. The researchers applied an artificial intelligence algorithm created by Imazon to analyze the images.

Past efforts at making out roads in stacks of satellite images took researchers months of poring over the pictures. This time around, Imazon’s algorithm cut the analysis time to just seven hours, allowing the researchers to focus on the data. Studies using the previous methods had already indicated that the advance of unofficial roads was a driver of deforestation in the Amazon, but the new research will allow scientists to recreate a historical series with data from previous years using the new algorithm for the entire Amazon region.

Souza said mapping and monitoring the spread of roads is crucial to identifying threats to the forest, its people, and traditional communities. Previous studies have already shown that 95% of deforestation happens within 5.5 km (3.4 mi) of a road, and 85% of fires each year occur within 5 km (3.1 mi). Accounting for only the official road network, deforestation would be at least 50 km (31 mi) from the nearest road, and fires 30 km (18.6 mi) away.

“That proves mapping clandestine roads improves deforestation and fire risk prediction models and can be used as a tool to prevent forest destruction,” Souza said. “Monitoring usually looks for deforestation after the forest has already been cut down. If monitoring focuses on roads, the potential to prevent deforestation is huge.”

Souza and the team at Imazon are also building a network to deploy their tool in tropical forests worldwide to map the road footprint in other areas under pressure, such as the Congo Basin and Indonesia. PrevisIA, a deforestation prediction tool, is already using the new database. According to the latest analysis by Imazon, 75% of deforestation occurred within 4 km (2.5 mi) of PrevisIA’s predictions.

Both by length and density (the ratio between the area covered and the length of the road), unofficial roads in the Amazon are concentrated in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará, Tocantins, Maranhão and Rondônia. The data show that the zone known as the “arc of deforestation,” on the southeastern edge of the biome, continues to be the most targeted, but also points to a surge in the south of Amazonas state, western Pará, and the Terra do Meio region in central Pará.

Souza said that while most roads are very well maintained in private areas and with no public access, regulatory bodies such as the DNIT should work with environmental protection agencies to restrict traffic on these roads.

An imminent threat

An example of an illegal road that presents a danger to one of the most extensive contiguous forests in the Amazon was detected by Rede Xingu+, a network of conservation NGOs. The organization spotted an unofficial road running 42.8 km (26.6 mi)  across two important conservation areas: the Terra do Meio Ecological Station and the Iriri State Forest. The road threatens to divide the Xingu Socioenvironmental Corridor, a ​​28-million-hectare (69-million-acre) swath of native forest that’s home to 21 Indigenous territories and nine conservation units.

According to the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an NGO that advocates for environmental and Indigenous rights, the illegal road starts in a deforestation hub inside the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area. From there, it’s on the verge of completing the connection between the municipalities of Novo Progresso and São Felix do Xingu, a center for the illegal timber and gold trades. With just 10 km (6 mi) of forest to cut through in Iriri, the road could soon reach the Curuá River, inside the state forest, completing the connection and slicing right through the Xingu corridor, increasing the vulnerability of its forests dramatically.

“The threat is imminent,” Thaise Rodrigues, a geoprocessing analyst at the ISA, told Mongabay by phone, “and so far we are not aware of any legal action to stop it.” Rede Xingu+ spotted the road for the first time in January this year. Its progress was interrupted for a few months when it reached a mine inside the Terra do Meio Ecological Station. As of May this year, work on the road resumed, and it reached the Iriri State Forest. In July and August, the monitoring showed 575 hectares (1,420 acres) of deforestation around this road.

“When a large mass of forest is broken, it becomes vulnerable. The roads cause fragmentation, which intensifies deforestation,” Rodrigues said. The ISA has criticized both the Pará state and the federal governments for their inaction, given that both are responsible for the protected areas inside the Xingu corridor. The illegal road increases what’s known as the “edge effect,” where areas of forest exposed to clearings such as roads become more vulnerable to threats. And the deforestation wrought by these threats drives the Amazon closer toward a “tipping point,” beyond which the rainforest loses its ability to self-regenerate and devolves into a dry savanna.

According to the ISA, the Xingu corridor holds an estimated 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, and its mass of lush vegetation is responsible for generating the “flying rivers” of water vapor that bring rain to the rest of the continent. Splitting up swaths of forest with roads also causes a loss of connectivity, which directly impacts the migration of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, while accelerating the desertification of the soil. The ISA points to another serious risk: opening up the rainforest brings humans closer to the 3,000 known coronavirus species that Amazonian bats carry, making another global pandemic ever more likely.

Near the Iriri State Forest, the Baú Indigenous Territory is already under heavy pressure from mining activities and the deforestation front advancing from the municipality of Novo Progresso.

“The greater the network of roads around and inside protected areas,” Rodrigues said, “the greater the access for the consolidation of such illegal activities.”

She added that unprotected public areas are even more susceptible to land grabs. “The delimitation of protected areas would help, but the public authorities need to show interest in protecting these areas and the communities that live there.”

Imazon’s Souza said the creation of protected areas is the fastest way to contain the spread of these roads, since there’s little chance of land grabbers gaining legal title to the land that’s designated as protected.

“Deforestation is an expensive business,” he said, “and nobody will spend money if there’s no chance of owning that land in the future.” That applies even to areas where roads have already been cut, since that would make them less appealing to speculators.

Official roads are also risks

Experts say Brazil should also rethink the construction of government-built roads. One example is the BR-230, a project conceived under the military dictatorship that’s become a problem child for successive administrations. Construction of the road, known as Trans-Amazonian Highway, began in 1969, and it was inaugurated in 1972 despite not having been completed. Today, it cuts more than 4,000 km (2,500 mi) through the Amazon from Brazil’s northeast coast, with long stretches still unpaved and rendered completely impassable during the rainy season. The combination of cost, logistics, and the inherent difficulty of building colossal infrastructure in the middle of the forest have meant it’s still uncompleted 50 years after its inauguration.

Besides the Trans-Amazonian Highway, there’s the BR-163, which connects Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso, to Santarém, in northern Pará; and the BR-319, from Manaus, in Amazonas, to Porto Velho, in Rondônia. Both are expected to cut across the Brazilian Amazon in different directions. Experts say that despite being officially sanctioned projects, the precarious planning behind them compounds the risks to the region’s environment.

A 2020 study evaluated 75 road projects in the Amazon, including in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, composed of 12,000 km (nearly 7,500 mi) of planned roads. It showed that, if carried out over the next 20 years, the roads would cause the deforestation of 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of forest. Besides the environmental damage linked, 45% of the projects would also generate economic losses. Canceling these unfeasible projects would save $7.6 billion and 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) of forests, the study showed.

It also made the case that carefully picking a smaller number of projects could achieve 77% of the economic benefits with only 10% of the socioenvironmental damage.

“Every project will cause environmental damage to some degree,” study co-author Thaís Vilela, a senior economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Conservation Strategy Fund, told Mongabay in an email. “But there is a subset of projects that have a positive financial return with lower environmental and social impacts.”

The research considered variables such as the project’s initial cost, deforestation, ecological relevance of the area, access to schools and health centers, and breaches of environmental regulations.

“Often, decision makers only consider the financial costs and benefits of the project,” Vilela said, “and there are political demands that often do not follow the economic logic.”

The research shows that the economic prospects of a project go from positive to negative when the potential environmental and social impacts are accounted for. To pave 2,234 km (​​1,388 mi) of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, for instance, 561,000 hectares (1.38 million acres) of forest would be destroyed. In terms of the impact on biodiversity, water, carbon storage, and the integrity of protected areas, BR-163, BR-230, and BR-319 would do the most significant damage to the environment, the study found. Paving 496 km (​​308 miles) of BR-163 alone would cause 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

As dire as these figures look, the true extent of the damage would be even greater because of the unofficial roads that would sprout off these main highways, the study authors said. Construction and improvement of these primary roads, they wrote, “might potentially lead to the construction of secondary, tertiary, and even illegal roads in the region, promoting additional impacts.”.

“Unofficial roads usually come from official ones,” Imazon’s Souza said. He blamed poor environmental impact assessments for allowing this proliferation of roads, adding that the major official highways also harm protected areas and Indigenous territories.

“There are areas where roads should not be built, as environmental and social damage would be greater than potential benefits,” Vilela said. “Ideally, the definition of these variables should involve all individuals directly affected by the project.”

The DNIT told Mongabay that its responsibility is limited to federal roads listed in the National Road System database, which doesn’t include unofficial roads. Mongabay also contacted IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, and ICMBio, the government institute that oversees protected areas, but didn’t receive any response to requests for comment by the time this story was published.

Citations:

Botelho, J., Costa, S. C., Ribeiro, J. G., & Souza, C. M. (2022). Mapping roads in the Brazilian Amazon with artificial intelligence and Sentinel-2. Remote Sensing, 14(15), 3625. doi:10.3390/rs14153625

Barber, C. P., Cochrane, M. A., Souza Jr, C. M., & Laurance, W. F. (2014). Roads, deforestation, and the mitigating effect of protected areas in the Amazon. Biological Conservation, 177, 203-209. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.004

Vilela, T., Malky Harb, A., Bruner, A., Laísa da Silva Arruda, V., Ribeiro, V., Auxiliadora Costa Alencar, A., … Botero, R. (2020). A better Amazon road network for people and the environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(13), 7095-7102. doi:10.1073/pnas.1910853117

Amazon rainforest” by CIFOR is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.