Last night's debate included some good news for the embattled wildlife and landscape of the Southwest. In response to a question about whether or not they would slow construction of the border wall under construction in the Southwest, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton criticized the wall as ineffective and counterproductive.
Virginia's Democratic governor Tim Kaine, often mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee, seems to be flushing his ambitions for national office down the toilet by actively working to build yet another coal-fired power plant for one of his biggest campaign donors. Tim Kaine. Photo: virginia.gov Kaine has tried to present himself as a green, forward-thinking governor by proposing a "Virginia Energy Plan" he claimed would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent. True, Kaine is going ahead with plans to purchase 27,000 compact fluorescent bulbs (which will save the amount of electricity used by -- wait for it -- 1300 [!] homes). But when it comes to things that actually matter -- like where Virginia gets its energy -- he's actively backing the construction of a new greenhouse-gas- and toxic-pollution-belching coal-fired power plant in Virginia's Wise County. Behind this coal plant is Dominion Power, which has contributed over $135,000 directly to Kaine's campaign and inaugural funds. Is the governor acting on behalf of Virginia or the country's well-being, or is he offering quid pro quo for financial support? As it is, Kaine is looking a lot like a dinosaur pol, practicing a kind of politics eerily similar to the Republican culture of corruption.
A mine similar to the one proposed for the Bristol Bay area. Photo: Ben Knight. This past Christmas, I named Anglo-American Mining Company CEO "Cyanide" Cynthia Carroll the "world's biggest scrooge" for planning to plop one of the world's biggest gold mines right atop the richest salmon fishery in the world in Alaska's Bristol Bay -- and wreaking massive devastation to the landscape, wildlife, and economy of Alaska (you can see pictures of this landscape in the extraordinary book Rivers of Life by Robert Glenn Ketchum and Bruce Hampton). Well, my little article got some big attention from Anglo-American, and spokesflack Sean Magee struck back in a lengthy riposte, which I've excerpted below (full version here). In Glenn's article, he talks about the "gold lust" of mining company CEOs who want to gild their bathrooms and fill their swimming pools with the precious yellow metal. Unfortunately, the gold mine he's referring to will actually be a copper mine. As much as 95% of the recoverable metal contained in the Pebble ore body is copper. Somehow, a copper toilet bowl, or filling a swimming pool with pennies, just doesn't create the image of a greedy corporate executive Glenn was shooting for. When I pressed Magee on this point, he clarified that 95 percent refers to the weight, not the value. According to him, it becomes 30 percent when you compare the value of the gold to the copper. Of course, with gold prices hitting $900 an ounce and investors rushing into gold, the gold part of the mine is becoming a lot more valuable. But mining companies don't like to talk about gold, because 85 percent of global demand is driven by jewelry; it's hard to defend the destruction that accompanies gold mining when almost all of it goes to make bling. I also admit, I had a hard time believing Magee -- the email address he used to send me his letter ends in "@hdgold.com." Regardless, let's talk about copper. Here's what Magee says is so great about it:
With the New Hampshire primaries approaching, I thought I'd share this article about how Hillary Clinton's political style has directly affected New Hampshire voters in a way that might shed light on the kind of president she would be. The article was co-written with Friends of the Earth Action president Brent Blackwelder. ----- New Hampshire has for decades struggled to keep its air clean. But during 2005 and 2006, Hillary Clinton's ambitions collided with New Hampshire's air quality, putting thousands of Granite Staters, and particularly children, directly in the line of a deadly cloud of toxic pollution. At the time, of course, Clinton was hotly engaged in a campaign to increase her margin of victory in her bid for reelection in her New York Senate race. Her triumph was never in question: she faced only token Republican opposition in a heavily Democratic state. But she was desperate to prove that she could win with a big margin in more conservative areas of upstate New York so she could prove to Democrats that she would be viable in similar conservative areas around the country during her presidential bid. That understandable political aspiration came head to head with New Hampshire children's health in 2005, when the International Paper logging company unveiled a proposal to burn tires at its Ticonderoga paper mill in upstate New York on the border with Vermont. Burning tires to power its operations would save IP money on its electricity bills, but it came with a heavy price.
Having trouble finding a Grinch this Christmas season? Try Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo-American Mining Company. Carroll's company has teamed up with Northern Dynasty (like the television show Dynasty, only eviler) to build the world's biggest dam in Alaska so she can mine piles of gold, which will have the unfortunate impact of destroying the world's largest salmon fishery. Not only will the dam prevent the salmon from reaching their spawning grounds, the cyanide Carroll uses to extract gold from rock will likely seep into the river, ruining the salmon's sense of smell, which is vital to them finding their way, if it doesn't just kill them outright. In fairness, Carroll apparently needs something with which to re-gild her toilet. Unfortunately, Carroll's need for a soft, shiny, yellow resting area for her derriere has a price: the elimination of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery might keep rappers rolling in bling and allow central bankers to keep using words like "bullion," but it's also going to imperil grizzly bears, bald eagles and the many other creatures that rely on the salmon, not to mention the Native people who traditionally rely on the salmon fishery for food. Oh, and it will threaten to put many of Alaska's commercial salmon fishermen out of business, which will mean the end of the world's only major supplier of sustainably caught, non-toxic wild salmon. On the other hand, Carroll would look totally powerful with that sceptered orb she's been craving.
This post was co-written with Dorjee Sun, the head of Carbon Conservation, a company that works to protect forests in Indonesia from destruction. ----- Photo: www.viajar24h.com Bali, Indonesia, is the perfect backdrop for this week's climate summit. No country better embodies the immense peril of inaction -- and the immense opportunity this meeting has to make massive and immediate progress in stemming the climate crisis. Indonesia is the world's third largest global warming polluter, behind the United States and China, and just ahead of Brazil. But in Indonesia, like Brazil and the rest of the tropical world, pollution isn't coming from factories, power plants, or cars like it is in the industrialized world. Instead, almost all of it is coming from the rapid burning of the world's vast tropical forests to make room for timber, agriculture, and especially palm oil plantations. (Despite its green reputation, palm oil is anything but: a recent study in Science found that palm oil, like other biofuels, produces two to nine times more greenhouse gases than regular old crude oil because of the forests and grasslands destroyed for its production.) Companies like Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, Cargill and Seattle's Imperium Renewables are paying top dollar to turn palm oil into food, cosmetics and biodiesel. That global demand has driven the value of a hectare of palms above $1000 (PDF) in some cases -- providing a powerful financial incentive to corporations, investors, and farmers to raze the forests, regardless of the consequences to the climate or to the endangered orangutans, tigers, and rhinoceroses - and indigenous people -- who need them to survive. The Bali conference could immediately eliminate that perverse accounting by making sure forests and other wild lands around the world are financially valued for the carbon they store, and not just their potential as timber or agricultural land. The way to do that is to allow polluters to get credit for protecting forests that they can apply against their pollution reduction obligations, an idea called carbon ranching or avoided deforestation. Polluters would jump at this opportunity. Protecting forests from destruction can cost as little as 75 cents per ton of carbon dioxide - even at higher costs, it's a fraction of the price (PDF) of cleaning up most industrial pollution. In the past, some environmentalists criticized carbon ranching for this very reason: they were concerned that if polluters focused their greenhouse gas reduction efforts on forest conservation, that would divert money from necessary clean-ups in industrial pollution. That's the wrong way to look at it. Because locking up carbon dioxide by protecting forests is so cheap, it means that the world can achieve bigger reductions in global warming pollution faster and for less money. Carbon ranching should be an argument for bigger immediate pollution reductions, from both forests and industry, not a way for polluters to get around their responsibility to clean up their own pollution.
In the lead-up to the international Bali Climate summit, Greenpeace has launched a major direct action in Sumatra, Indonesia, to stop the nefarious PT Duta Palma corporation from destroying a pristine tropical forest (and the habitat for highly endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and oh-so-cute orangutans) and replacing it with a palm oil plantation. Click on the picture to the right to watch the extraordinary video of their action, including amazing helicopter footage of both the glorious and denuded Indonesian landscape. Torching tropical forests is bad enough, but this one lies atop a peat bog and the Duta Palma's henchmen are trying to drain it and burn it to grow the palms -- releasing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Indeed, destruction of peat bogs in Indonesia alone accounts for more than 8 percent of total global greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.
As Matt Stoller pointed out at Open Left, environmental groups haven't been very quick off the mark in responding to the California wildfires and framing them as a climate disaster. Whether it's Katrina, Rita, the 2003 wildfires, 2004 Florida hurricanes, or any of the numerous other climate disasters of recent years, environmental groups have been slow. It's true that you can't tie any particular climate disaster directly to global warming -- but it's easy enough to acknowledge that and then talk about how these kinds of disasters will become more frequent and more intense as the climate crisis worsens ... and then turn the conversation to solutions. (photo: Kevin Labianco, Flickr) Mostly, environmentalists have been timid because they're afraid right wingers will accuse them of "exploiting" the tragedies, but environmental groups shouldn't decide what to say or not say on the basis of a few fringe anti-environmentalists. Framing these events as climate disasters directs the conversation and forces the media to address the question, rather than continuing with the "Mother Nature strikes again" stories they usually run. If we let the right wing define what we say, we'll be 100 percent mute, 100 percent of the time. It's kind of a ridiculous strategy.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday that he's going to just waive the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Waste Disposal Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (among many others) in order to plough ahead with building a wall along the Arizona-Mexico border in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. He repeated his rationale that the wall could be good for the environment because migrants leave behind trash: But there are also environmental reasons to stop illegal crossings in the SPRNCA. Illegal entrants leave trash and high concentrations of human waste, which impact wildlife, vegetation and water quality in the habitat. Wildfires caused by campfires have significantly damaged the soil, vegetation, and cultural sites, not to mention threatened human safety. As anyone who's spent any time along the border (or, really, anywhere on the planet) can attest, this statement is a complete lie. A little pile of trash in the wilderness might be unsightly, but it has nowhere near the effect of a giant, honking, double layered concrete wall. (Which, um, is a little more unsightly, if that's the standard we're going by.) Since when is a wall a solution to trash anyway? I think usually, Mr. Chertoff, the way people clean up trash is by picking it up. What jaguars and bobcats and Sonoran pronghorn antelope and ocelots need is not a trash-free wilderness, but a wilderness that doesn't cut them off from the breeding populations on the other side of the border. Increased Bush administration border activity and the climate crisis have already reduced populations of the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope from 500 to below 25.