Category Archives: Washington

The Climate Two Step

More caution needed on climate change, scientists say.

If news were like music that sets the tempo of public opinion, the latest spate of climate change headlines is tapping out something like a two-step. One step closer to certainty, then the music reels toward denialism; Inspiring, if brief, performances by grassroots activists, flanked by the chorus line of corporate sponsorships and murky backroom dealings.

Last week the world’s leading scientific authority on global warming, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a report linking extreme weather to climate change and urged governments around the world to step up their efforts for dealing with “climate extremes.” The same day U.S. Congress  killed plans for a national climate agency.

Months of protesting the Keystone pipeline led to a postponement that could provide bureaucratic deathblow to the project. But it turns out that defeating the pipeline will not keep the Canadian tar sands from flowing to refineries via other routes, including the millions of miles of existing U.S. pipelines that already transport — and sometimes spill — the particularly gooey and toxic fossil fuel.

The Sierra Club‘s longtime leader Carl Pope has finally stepped down amid what the Los Angeles Times said was “discontent that the group founded by 19th century wilderness evangelist John Muir has compromised its core principles.” Pope’s replacement, Michael Brune, declared “done” the $1.3 million sponsorship deal Pope had championed with the makers of Clorox  bleach. Brune vowed to never again risk sullying the venerable institution’s reputation by shilling for another corporate polluter. Having been one of those who criticized the Sierra Club’s Clorox deal, it’s good to see the new leadership heeding concerns about greenwashing. But virtually all of the the country’s other flagship environmental groups are beholden to corporate “sponsors” and “partners” today, as the recent greenwashing scandals involving  World Wildlife Fund and the National Park Foundation and their corporate sponsor, the Coke-a-Cola Co, atest.

Triggering a Climate Movement?

Anti-pipeline protesters Nov. 6. Photo by C MacDonald

Last week, while reporting about environmentalism inside the Occupy Wall Street movement, I had an interesting conversation with Indiana University professor Fabio Rojas about the “trigger” effect. It’s a theory about the momentum that tends to build once protests reach a critical mass of supporters. The movement’s own success sets up a sort of positive feedback loop that “triggers” or “signals to” other – perhaps more cautious or moderate – people that it’s O.K. to express their own frustrations and even take to the streets.

I wonder if that’s not at least part of what helped bring out so many people to yesterday’s protest against the proposed Keystone pipeline. Busloads of folks from around the country turned up to encircle the White House. There were more than enough to make it around the presidential compound. Chief organizer Bill McKibben sent out an email to supporters last night saying 12,000 people participated in what organizers sometimes jokingly referred to as a big “hug” meant give President Obama the support he needs to scuttle the deal. Of course, White House “headlock,”also seemed an apt metaphor given the number of people waving signs expressing their disappointment with the president.

The pipeline would cut southward across the country transporting tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Supporters have essentially cast the battle as another jobs v. environment fight, though the Washington Post had a story Saturday exposing some pretty fuzzy math in Keystone’s assertions that 20,000 jobs would result. Critics oppose the pipeline for a number of local and global reasons. They say building it would lock the country into decades of continued fossil fuel dominance and destroy any chance at reigning in global warming before its too late, while oil spills from the pipeline could contaminate ecologically sensitive areas, chiefly the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water for drinking and crop irrigation across several Midwestern states.

Obama under pressure on pipeline. Photo by C. MacDonald

Riding around on my bike amid the smiling, chanting, occasionally singing and dancing crowd, the collective mood was joyous. This is what momentum-building apparently looks like compared to the general feeling emanating from the precursor: Last summer’s two weeks of civil disobedience at the same spot. Those rolling protests raised the profile of the pipeline fight and upped the pressure on the Obama Administration, but turnout was a disappointment. After initially trumpetting the news that more than 2,000 people had pledged to come to Washington and get arrested in front of the White House, organizers were left backtracking. In the end, more than 1,200 people were arrested.

About two weeks after the last tar sands protester made bail in Washington, however, Occupy Wall Street began. It’s conceivable that the tar sands protests acted as a “trigger” for the Occupy movement, though the anti-Wall Street activists have said their main inspirations are the Arab Spring and protests in Madrid.

Now, with thousands of people hunkered down in public squares and plazas around the globe, perhaps it seemed more reasonable than radical to take to the streets to defeat the pipeline that McKibben has referred to as “game over” for the environment. The trigger effect as more of a boomerang?

We may soon find out what it means for the pipeline decision but what about the prospects of triggering a wider climate justice movement? On that question, one thing bodes well for the protesters: Most in yesterday’s crowd are environmentalists from the get-go. True, some, particularly the contingent from Nebraska, may be acting primarily to protect their drinking water. And, there was definitely crossover from Occupy DC and other encampments around the country that are more concerned with the state of the economy, corporate greed and growing income inequality. Still, the vast majority of people, like the organizers themselves, were demanding action on climate change as much as protesting an oil pipeline. Shaping them into a formidable climate movement seems more doable than trying to redirect the anti-corporate sentiments of the Occupy movement into the related but less immediate issue of climate justice.

GMOs + CAFOs attemp a makeover

Photo by Graham Boyle

Check out the GMO corn-fish car built by members of Washington’s intrepid artist/activist collective DC51. These local talents supply the visuals for a wide variety of environmental and human rights marches here in the nation’s capital. Usually, they silkscreen posters, banners and the occasional limited edition T-shirt. This repurposed sedan takes art-for-the-revolution to a new level. But the car is not just cute; It’s meant call attention to concerns about farmed fish raised on GMO corn.  It’s also road worthy. The corn-fish navigated the interstate highway system last month to attend a New York City protest of genetically modified organisms such as lab-altered corn and soybeans used not just to feed the fishes but in so many of the foods we find in the supermarket.

My new blog post on the E Magazine site discusses current efforts to makeover GMOs and frankenfish, among other parts of our industrial food system. here’s an excerpt:

October is proving a busy month for the country’s old guard food industries. After a decade of books and documentaries exposing the more unsavory aspects of how our food is produced, Big Ag and consumer brand companies are striking back with campaigns aimed at quelling the country’s growing disaffection with CAFO-raised beef, fake “fruit” snacks and sugary cereals.

In Washington, D.C., in recent weeks, members of the food and advertising industries urged Congress to dump a planned update to federal nutritional guidelines on foods marketed to kids. The draft rules, announced last April
 by the Interagency Working Group, made up of representatives from the Food and drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are aimed at combating child obesity.

Read the rest of this post on the E site.

Some of the “many hearts” of Oct. 6 Protest

Many hearts + Signs at Oct. 6 protest

 

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Art + Corporate Sponsorship II

Yesterday I wrote about the trouble with relying on corporate sponsors — be it to produce artwork or carry out environmental work. Here’s a link to a 2 minute video of the video installation, “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo” that I discuss in that earlier post.
Enjoy!

The Trouble with Corporate Sponsorship

Having chronicled the corrupting influence of corporate donations to environmental groups, I found myself in uncomfortable territory last weekend while helping my husband, videoartist Alberto Roblest, produce “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo,” a temporary public art installation that, for two nights, took over an alleyway in Washington D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Even before the trouble began, I was feeling a little queasy about Alberto’s deal with Best Buy. The electronics retail chain had agreed to loan him video projectors in exchange for sponsorship bragging rights.

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Group representing small businesses says Clean Air Act has been worth the costs

 

Image by Alberto Roblest

 

Small Business Majority, an upstart trade association that is challenging the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the sole voice of the country’s business sector, has come out with a report concluding that “the Clean Air Act’s economic benefits have far exceeded the costs imposed on businesses.”

And that’s not the only eco-friendly position taken by the group, which says it represents the tens of millions of small businesses in the country. It also opposes limiting the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it would penalize entrepreneurs who have already taken the carbon-busting plunge.

The venerable U.S. Chamber, in contrast, has challenged the EPA’s plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions and opposes any crackdown that would increase the country’s electricity rates. Those stances have prompted outrage from environmentalists (and this spoof by The Yes Men).

Can “Mad Scientists” Fix Global Warming?

J.J. "Mad Scientist". common.wikimedia.org

The Washington Post has a story about how “geoengineering” — let’s just call it the mad scientist approach to stopping global warming — is gaining ground in the absence of political will in Washington to deal with the problem through more conventional means such as capping and/or taxing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and phasing fossil fuels out of the economy.

What is geoengineering? As the story points out, the ideas gaining the most traction generally aim at reflecting the suns rays away from Earth and hoovering up the excess greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Sound like science fiction? Well, these ideas are still more sci-fi than sci-fact though we may be seeing some of them deployed as global warming becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But nobody really knows what kind of reactions such evasive measures will take. Reporter Juliet Eilperin quotes House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.):

“The more you know about it, the more you’re concerned about if we can ever implement it,” Gordon said in an interview. “However, there may be a point where we’re up against the tipping point, and the consequences of climate change are even worse.”

Brings to mind a dieter who doesn’t really want to stop eating Twinkies or go for a jog, instead turns to untested diet pills, and ends up with irreparable heart damage.

Appalachia Rising in DC

Grace Burke protests Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in front of the White House Sept. 27.

People from Appalachia and around the country marched to the White House today to send a message to President Obama about mountaintop removal coal mining: Stop it immediately.

Mountaintop removal — or “mountaintop mining” — as coal companies such as Massey Energy prefer to call it — is a form of strip mining. The companies use explosives to blast off the tops of the mountains and heavy machinery to scoop up the valuable coal seams underneath. Tons of so called “waste rock” (the parts of the mountain of no use to coal companies) are trucked down into valleys, where they are dumped, a process called “valley fill.” Since mountaintop mining began a few decades ago, hundreds of mountains in Appalachia have been blown apart in this way and a couple of thousand of miles of streams and lakes have been buried under waste rubble, according to the EPA.

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Cows will be Cows

Cows will be cows. Chesapeake Bay Foundation photo

Earlier this week, this blog discussed the dilemma facing people everywhere who want both spot-free dishes and clean watersheds. Well, yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted another part of the Chesapeake Bay‘s chemical runoff problem: It announced a crack down at the chicken and dairy farm run by the Petersheim brothers of Lancaster County, Pa.

EPA inspectors slapped the Petersheims with a $6,000 fine for allowing runoff from animal manure and milkhouse washwater packed with nitrogen and phosphorus to end up in a tributary of Chickies Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and eventually meets the bay.

According to the EPA press release, the brothers’ farm in Manheim, Pa., has about 80 dairy cows and produces eggs from about 36,000 hens. Is that a lot? After reading about the country’s massive factory farming operations that produce most of the eggs — and don’t forget the salmonella! — in the country, the Petersheim operation doesn’t sound terribly large and impactful. And, that just illustrates how diffuse and complicated a pollution problem the Chesapeake is facing. The EPA has outlined its plan to step up the long-running cleanup efforts, here. But the task is daunting and environmentalists have expressed lot of skepticism over the plans rolled out by the states bordering the bay. Meanwhile, the farmers are pushing back: A group of Virginia farmers are coming to Washington tomorrow to complaint about the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach to the cleanup and lobby against stricter new legislation in Congress, according to this AP report.

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