Denis Moynihan

Big oil and the endless climate lie

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is getting carried away. Literally. She joined thousands in the village of Lützerath, Germany, to oppose the expansion of an open-pit lignite mine, one of the dirtiest forms of coal. Police in riot gear hauled her away as the mass arrests progressed. Greta wrote on Twitter, “Yesterday I was part of a group that peacefully protested the expansion of a coal mine…We were kettled by police and then detained but were let go later that evening. Climate protection is not a crime.”

As Greta was being detained, thousands of the global elite were arriving in Davos, Switzerland for the 53rd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The WEF is touted as a place for leaders to engage in peer-to-peer dialogue to address the world’s most pressing problems. Hundreds arrive by private jet, which, on a per-passenger basis, is the most heavily polluting mode of transport.

This gathering of high carbon emitters heard from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “We are flirting with climate disaster. Every week brings a new climate horror story,” he said. “The consequences will be devastating. Several parts of our planet will be uninhabitable. For many, this is a death sentence, but it is not a surprise. The science has been clear for decades…We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet.”

Guterres was referencing a study published in Science further proving that fossil fuel companies long knew greenhouse gasses intensified human-induced climate change. This study followed a December report issued by the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee documenting decades of greenwashing and climate change disinformation by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Catastrophic climate disruption is here, and disruptors like Greta Thunberg are clearly not the ones who should be arrested.

“Exxon, Chevron and other big oil companies knew that when they were burning fossil fuels in the 1970s, it was causing climate change and that this was going to be a major problem for humanity,” Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna, who helped lead the investigation, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “They had the best scientists. And yet their CEOs, their executives went out for decades and lied to the American public, did not disclose their own science. As a result, we never started the transition, and we are in the world of pain that we are in today.”

The “world of pain” he referenced has descended on Khanna’s home state of California, battered over the past two weeks by climate-fueled rain and snow storms, landslides and mudslides, driven by what climate scientist David Swain described on Democracy Now! as “atmospheric rivers…corridors of highly concentrated atmospheric water vapor moving quickly through the atmosphere.” In addition to billions of dollars in damages, these unprecedented storms have claimed 22 lives to date.

Congressman Khanna blames the massively profitable fossil fuel companies. “They should be held accountable like Big Tobacco was held accountable.”

While Davos is buzzing with World Economic Forum activities “to drive tangible, system-positive change for the long term” and spur “proactive, vision-driven policies and business strategies,” the Alps, in which the resort town is nestled, are suffering a climate crisis of their own. An unseasonably warm winter has left much of the huge mountain range barren of snow, with the multi-billion dollar ski and winter snow sports industry in a crisis.

In 2019, Greta Thunberg, then 16 years old, told the World Economic Forum, “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…as if the house is on fire. Because it is.”

Three years later, she is back in Davos, fresh from the coal protests in Lützerath, with other youth climate leaders including Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Helena Gualinga from Ecuador, and Luisa Neubauer from Germany. They have issued a letter to the CEOs of fossil fuel corporations, that reads in part, “This Cease and Desist Notice is to demand that you immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need…If you fail to act immediately, be advised that citizens around the world will consider taking any and all legal action to hold you accountable. And we will keep protesting in the streets in huge numbers.”

The World Economic Forum has been discussing world problems for just about as long as ExxonMobil has been lying about climate change. Scientists revealed this week that Greenland just had its hottest decade in 1,000 years and that its massive ice sheet is rapidly melting, causing more sea level rise. Catastrophic climate disruption is here, and disruptors like Greta Thunberg are clearly not the ones who should be arrested.

How to stop Earth's sixth mass extinction

The words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres couldn't have been starker:

We are waging a war on nature. Ecosystems have become playthings of profit. Human activities are laying waste to once-thriving forests, jungles, farmland, oceans, rivers, seas and lakes. Our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics. The addiction to fossil fuels has thrown our climate into chaos. Unsustainable production and monstrous consumption habits are degrading our world. Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction…with a million species at risk of disappearing forever.

Guterres was opening the global summit of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15 in UN parlance, which just wrapped up in Montreal. The convention was launched at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, alongside the UN's better-known climate change negotiations.

The biodiversity convention is the best hope we have to stop what has been called the sixth extinction, as human activities extinguish tens of thousands of species every year, never to return. The previous five extinctions occurred from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years ago. The most recent one happened 66 million years ago, when, scientists believe, a 6-mile-wide asteroid smashed into water off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The impact caused massive tsunamis, acid rain and wildfires, then blanketed the atmosphere with sun-blocking dust, lowering temperatures worldwide and wiping out the dinosaurs.

We humans are now essentially doing to the planet what that asteroid did. As New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert eloquently describes in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction, humans have evolved into a predator without equal. We overtake and destroy habitats with abandon, driving other species into permanent oblivion.

Key agreements forged last week in Montreal were signed by 196 nations. The U.S., along with the Vatican, didn't sign as neither is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A central achievement of the Montreal negotiations was the "30x30" pledge to protect 30% of Earth's lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030. Also agreed to was the creation of a fund to help developing nations protect biodiversity, slated to reach $200 billion annually by 2030, while phasing down harmful subsidies by $500 billion per year. A requirement for the "full and active involvement" of indigenous peoples was also written into the text.

"It's absolutely impossible to create a biodiversity agreement without the inclusion of Indigenous rights, because 80% of remaining biodiversity is Indigenous lands and territories," Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Some of the biggest challenges and risks that have come out of this COP is the fact that there aren't any real mechanisms with real teeth, similar to COP27 [the recent UN climate summit in Egypt], that actually protect our rights, our culture, and our ability to advance our rights to say yes and no to these types of agreements."

Eriel Deranger first appeared on Democracy Now! while in Copenagen in 2009, attending a different COP15–the 15th meeting of the UN climate change convention. She was delivering a basket to the Canadian embassy in advance of then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's arrival for those pivotal climate negotiations:

"Inside the basket were copies of the treaties that are being violated by the Canada tar sands, and copies of the Kyoto Protocol, which he signed onto, as well as a copy of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to remind him that there is something else that he needs to sign onto in order to really fully respect indigenous people's rights."

It was at that 2009 climate summit that wealthy nations pledged to create a $100 billion per year fund by 2020, to help poorer nations adapt to and mitigate climate change. To date, the fund has fallen far short of the pledge, and much of the money available is offered as loans, not grants. So activists like Eriel Deranger have reason to be skeptical of the $200 billion per year biodiversity pledge just made in Montreal.

"They're centering colonial economic ideals," Deranger said this week. "They're still giving national and colonial states the power to determine what Indigenous rights look like when they're implemented in these agreements, and how lands will be developed, undeveloped, protected…In Canada, we are committing to '30×30,' millions and millions of dollars for biodiversity protection, Indigenous protection and conservation areas, yet we are not talking about ending the expansion of the Alberta tar sands."

Mass extinction will have far-reaching, potentially cataclysmic consequences for humankind. António Guterres was right: we are waging a war on nature. Respecting and following the leadership of Indigenous communities is the first step towards making peace with Mother Nature, while we still can.

The Iraqi and Afghan people were burn pit victims too

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military veterans and their supporters camped out in front of the U.S. Capitol for close to a week after Republican senators withdrew their support for a major expansion of health care for veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Formally titled, “The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” the PACT Act targets the Pentagon’s reliance on burn pits for disposing of the vast amounts of waste produced during the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Plumes of polluted smoke and particulates from the burn pits injured up to an estimated 3.5 million U.S. service members over the past two decades.

After blocking the bill, Senate Republicans faced withering criticism from veterans and their supporters, including renowned comedian Jon Stewart. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little,” said Stewart, deadly serious, flanked by vets and families of veterans who died from the exposure.

Earlier, Stewart assailed the Republicans:

“Ain’t this a bitch? America’s heroes, who fought in our wars, outside, sweating their asses off, with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments, while these motherf*****s sit in the air conditioning, walled off from any of it. They don’t have to hear it. They don’t have to see it.”

Stewart wept after the Senate finally passed the bill.

Burn pits were used to dispose of everything from trash, tires, paint and other volatile organic solvents, batteries, unexploded ordnance, petroleum products, plastics, and medical waste, including body parts. These constantly burning dumps were often sited adjacent to barracks. Little or no protective gear was provided for impacted soldiers.

“Burn pits are massive incineration fields, sometimes as big as football fields, but there were many smaller ones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, as well,” Purdue University anthropology professor Kali Rubaii said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified a slew of cancers related to burn pit exposure, along with skin problems, asthma, bronchitis, respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular problems, migraines and other neurological conditions.

These illnesses could have been prevented. The military typically used jet or diesel fuel to burn everything, creating far more pollution than high-temperature incinerators. But using incinerators would have cost more money. Waste disposal was handled by the military contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Halliburton’s CEO prior to 2001 was Dick Cheney. Cheney then became U.S. Vice President and was a key architect of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. KBR received no-bid contracts to handle an array of logistics for the wars, including waste disposal. KBR chose cheap and dirty burn pits, maximizing profits.

“War is a racket,” retired U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler wrote in 1935. Butler was a career Marine, admitting, in a 1931 speech, “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers,” Butler said. “I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans saw acute, short-term exposure to burn pits at peak health, at the prime of their lives,” Kali Rubaii, who recently returned from the heavily war-impacted Iraqi city of Fallujah, said. “Iraqis faced long-term, diffuse exposure at all stages of the life course, so the health effects were varied and widespread. Living near U.S. bases in Iraq, and therefore near burn pits, increased the likelihood of giving birth to a child with a birth defect or of getting cancer.

“Burn pits are not the biggest figure of environmental and health harm for Iraqis,” Professor Rabii elaborated. “They have also been facing military occupation, bombings, shootings, displacement and layers of military incursion by different occupation forces since the U.S. invasion. These things have all added up to collapse in public infrastructure that would be used to contend with the health effects of burn pits, poor overall health, and damaged conditions for farming and fishing.”

She concluded, “There is one really great way to avoid war-related injury, which is to not go [to war].”

The scars of the U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are deep, spanning decades. We will never know how many millions were killed or injured. The United States bears responsibility, and owes the survivors reparations, no less than has been pledged, belatedly, to U.S. veterans.

A star’s trek to space obscures deadly desert treks below

"Star Trek" was in the news this week, as actor William Shatner, who played "Captain Kirk" in the classic 1960s TV program, blasted into space at the age of 90 as one of billionaire Jeff Bezos' latest Blue Origin space tourists. In this remote region of west Texas, mere miles from Bezos' gilded launch pad, a trek of another kind takes place every day, as migrants, many fleeing violence, the climate crisis and poverty attempt the difficult journey from Mexico to the U.S. While the spacecraft lifted its privileged passengers aloft, lost lives littered the Chihuahuan Desert floor far below. Travel by foot under the blazing hot sun is difficult through the sand, rock and cacti, made harder by the militarized enforcement of the broken U.S. immigration system.

Thousands of migrants have died attempting this journey. Armando Alejo Hernandez was last heard from in early May. Armando's disappearance in the desert has been addressed in this column before, also with a reference to the Blue Origin space facility in nearby Van Horn, Texas. In July, the heat of the desert was at its deadliest, and Jeff Bezos was locked in what has been dubbed "the billionaire's space race" with Richard Branson, who flew with a small crew aboard his own spaceship to achieve a few minutes of suborbital weightlessness.

Their brief trips received international acclaim. If only the media scrum would linger, and focus their cameras on the more perilous journeys of these earthbound desert travelers.

Armando spent a decade in the United States, working and building a family, with two sons who were U.S. citizens by birth. Armando, though, never obtained legal documentation, and was deported in 2016. His older son, Derek, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour, described the genesis of Armando's fateful trip last May:

"Not having him around was tough on me, because I grew up, pretty much my whole childhood…all the time with my dad," Derek explained. "So, we were on the phone one day, and I asked him if he could come back, because I just wanted him around… I didn't get to see him for four years."

Alexis Corona was in a small group of migrants traveling north with Armando. He recently told Telemundo TV, "Armando said he couldn't walk anymore, and he wanted to see if he could be rescued…From where he stayed, maybe eight or nine miles ahead, the
rest of us were caught by immigration agents. We explained where Armando was, that he couldn't walk anymore, that he didn't have enough water or food. The reaction was, 'Well, if he stayed behind, he'll just have to stay there.'"

Derek was communicating with his father at that time. Armando sent
recorded voice messages to his son, describing his clothing, that he had no water and felt he couldn't go on. He sent a photo with a building high on a mountain in front of him. The photo clearly shows a U.S. government radar installation, placing Armando along the southern slope of Eagle Peak, in Hudspeth County, not far from El Paso.

Border Patrol agent Alex Jara, interviewed for the documentary "Missing in Brooks County," admitted, "We don't call them people anymore. We call them 'bodies.' Because if you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you."

Brooks County is home to one of the inland Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, which drives migrants lacking documentation off of Brooks County's single main roadway and into the desert to avoid capture.

"The increase of migration has begun since the beginning of the Biden administration," Eddie Canales, the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, based in Brooks County, said on Democracy Now! "I have families here, representatives from different countries right now, that are still searching for their missing loved ones… the number has increased. There have been 99 recoveries of bodies and skeletal remains in Brooks County alone this year."

Average temperatures in the desert are cooler at this time of year, but unguided travel through the harsh environment is still perilous. Many more will needlessly die. Immigrant rights activists are pressuring the White House and Congress to ensure that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents is included in the Build Back Better bill. The overall bill is being blocked by conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of another border state, Arizona, home to the equally dangerous Sonoran Desert.

It is fine to gaze heavenward, to reach for the stars, inspired by the green-card-holding, Canadian actor William Shatner. But the crises that engulf us now will not be solved by spaceshots, but by people pulling together here on earth, with feet firmly planted on the ground.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson calls out Trump’s lies on Iran

President Donald Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran by ordering the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the second most powerful figure in Iran. After Soleimani and four others were killed in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad International Airport Friday, Trump, offering no evidence, alleged that Soleimani was orchestrating imminent attacks on American personnel. We should be skeptical when Trump, or any leader, invokes secret “intelligence” to justify their violent actions. Perhaps no one knows this better than Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. He witnessed, and participated in, the effort by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others to promote lies to justify the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Keep reading...Show less

The Parkland Shooting Student Survivors Are Teaching the Country a New Lesson in the Historical Power of Youth Activists

The National Rifle Association didn’t see it coming. It could have predicted yet another school shooting, like so many that have happened before in the United States. But what the NRA couldn’t predict was the immediate and unrelenting response of the student survivors. They channeled their rage and sorrow over the killing of 17 of their classmates and teachers against the gun lobby and the politicians in their pocket. Pushed by this new momentum for change, President Donald Trump held a bipartisan meeting of congressional lawmakers Wednesday afternoon. The senators and representatives took turns laying out their policy prescriptions while heaping praise on Trump, who took credit in advance for what he said would be a “beautiful” bill that would pass the Senate with so many votes over the required 60 that it would be “unbelievable.”

Keep reading...Show less

How Obama Can Defang Trump's Immigration Policy in One Fell Swoop

Donald Trump will soon sweep into the office of the U.S. presidency, buttressed by both houses of Congress firmly in Republican control. A wave of regressive executive orders and legislation are already being prepared to ensure that Trump’s first 100 days effectively erase the Obama presidency. Where Trump was once the most prominent “birther,” attempting to deny President Barack Obama’s legitimacy with a racist campaign accusing him of being born in Kenya, Trump now will wield a pen to legally undermine Obama’s legacy. But Barack Obama is still the president of the United States until Jan. 20, and retains the enormous executive powers that the office bestows. That is why a swelling grass-roots movement is now urging Obama to use executive clemency and the presidential pardon to protect the nation’s millions of undocumented immigrants from the mass deportations Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail.

Keep reading...Show less

Global Call for Climate Action: Storming the Bastille at the Paris Summit

World leaders will gather in Paris in just one month to hammer out a treaty to confront the global threat of climate change. It’s real, growing and, based on increasing scientific consensus, clearly caused by human activity. Since the dawn of the industrial age, humans have been dumping pollutants into the sky as if the atmosphere is a bottomless pit, able to absorb an infinite amount of our smoke and exhaust. These greenhouse gasses have been forming a blanket around the planet, trapping the heat of the sun.

Keep reading...Show less

Remembering Grace Lee Boggs: A Century of Grass-Roots Organizing

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"603897","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"1200","style":"width: 600px; height: 400px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"1800"}}]]

Keep reading...Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.