2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (photo: Daniel Beltra)
“Citizen’s dividend or citizen’s income is a proposed state policy based upon the principle that the natural world is the common property of all persons (see Georgism). It is proposed that all citizens receive regular payments (dividends) from revenue raised by the state through leasing or selling natural resources for private use. In the United States, the idea can be traced back to Thomas Paine’s essay, Agrarian Justice, which is also considered one of the earliest proposals for a social security system in the United States. Thomas Paine best summarized his view by stating that “Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” This concept is a form of basic income, where the Citizen’s Dividend depends upon the value of natural resources or what could be titled as “common goods” like seignorage, the electro-magnetic spectrum, the industrial use of air (CO2 production), etc. The State of Alaska dispenses a form of citizen’s dividend in its Permanent Fund Dividend, which holds investments initially seeded by the state’s revenue from mineral resources, particularly petroleum. In 2005, every eligible Alaskan resident (including their children) received a check for $845.76. Over the 24-year history of the fund, it has paid out a total of $24,775.45 to every resident.”
“Colombia’s natural resource wealth is counted in the billions”
Report: Pollution Taxes Would Create Jobs, Cut Emissions and Put Money in Your Pocket
by Mike Ludwig / 12 June 2014
“What if I told you that, once a month, a check for, say, $250 is going to show up in your mailbox, just because you and your family are taxpayers? Now, what if I told you that this extra beer money – or cash for a fancy sushi date, whatever – is coming out of the pockets of some of the nation’s biggest polluters and contributors to climate change? And that the tax scheme behind this monthly check will not only reduce climate-changing carbon emissions, but it will also boost the economy and expand the use of renewable energy sources as well? I know you’re thinking that this sounds too good to be true. Well, of course it is. But this is what the future could be like if the United States imposed a revenue-neutral carbon tax on fossil fuel production, a proposal that has found support on both the left and the right.
“2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” (Photo: Daniel Beltra)
Pollution Taxes Will Grow the Economy
In a study released Monday, researchers at the non-partisan economic consulting firm Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI) found that recycling the carbon tax revenues back into society over 10 years would create 2.1 million extra jobs nationwide. Carbon emission would drop by 33 percent in the first 10 years and 52 percent in 20 years, and improvements in air quality would save 227,000 lives over the course of 20 years. The US gross domestic product would also see a significant boost after 2020, and would grow by a cumulative $1.4 trillion over 20 years.
Just 90 Companies Produced Two-Thirds of All Global Warming Emissions Ever
A carbon tax would also impact the energy market. REMI projected that most coal burning power plants, which account for about 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States, would eventually be phased out and shut down under the tax. Nuclear facilities, natural gas production and the use of so-called “carbon sequestration” technology that traps carbon emissions from fossil fuels would all expand under the tax. The use of wind power would also expand dramatically. “Wind will be a big winner, and so will air quality,” said Scott Nystrom, a senior economic research associate at REMI. And then there’s your monthly check. By 2025, the average family of four with two adults would get a check for $288 every month. By 2035, a family of four could expect nearly $400.
“More than two dozen major American corporations, including the five oil giants, are preparing to pay climate-related taxes such as The Motiva refinery, pictured here, co-owned by Shell in Port Arthur, Texas, April 2, 2013.” (Photo: Michael Stravato)
Job Winners and Losers
There are winners and losers in economics, and REMI’s carbon tax models do not show positive results for everyone. Average consumers would not need to worry too much; electricity and cost-of-living prices would initially see small increases during the first 10 years of the tax, but the added income from the tax revenues would more than make up for these increases. A steep revenue-neutral carbon tax, however, could send coal miners looking for new jobs as the tax pushes the energy market away from fossil fuels. Oil, gas and coal producers and the petrochemical and other manufacturers closely connected to them would take considerable economic hits and cut thousands of jobs over the years. By 2020, there would be 25,000 fewer jobs in oil and gas drilling, according to REMI.
“2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” (Photo: Daniel Beltra)
However, fields like health care, education, construction, food service and retail service would see bigger outputs and hire more people, as consumers spend the extra money from the tax revenues. Jobs may also be added in renewable energy sectors. In fact, the REMI study shows that many more jobs would be created than lost under a carbon tax system. “Detractors have said that a carbon tax will kill jobs,” said Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-partisan group that commissioned the study and supports a carbon tax. “The REMI study turns that assumption on its head.” In fact, every region of the United States would see an increase in employment under the tax except the Western, South-Central region, where Gulf of Mexico states like Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi host major fossil fuel production and distribution hubs. Nystrom said that this region would experience job loss under the tax system, but the tax would only make a small dent in the region’s gross economic production. So how high will this tax be? REMI’s tax model would start at $10 per metric ton of carbon dioxide content in fossil fuels at the point of extraction, and then increase by $10 per metric ton every year after that. One metric ton of carbon dioxide would fill a cube nearly 27 feet high, about the same size as an average home. Oil and gas would still be in high demand under this tax, but it would slowly become harder for coal to compete, and the use of renewables like wind would be much more common, according to models in the report.
“Lawsuit alleges BP and Chevron dumped radioactive waste into Louisiana waters”
For obvious reasons, the oil, coal and gas industries and their powerful lobbies are already opposed to a carbon tax and would fight tooth and nail to keep any of the REMI models from becoming a reality. Job loss is probably the most painful prospect of moving away from dirty energy, and jobs are at the heart of the fossil fuel industry’s rallying cry every time the Obama administration or anyone else attempts to set regulations to curb pollution and climate change. Coal, the nation’s dirtiest fossil fuel, has seemed especially desperate in its effort to stay relevant, as federal regulators consider new limits on carbon emissions from power plants, and the ongoing fracking boom continues to make natural gas a cheap and cleaner-burning alternative. Since last week, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Obama administration’s proposed plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent over the next 15 years, the coal industry and its allies in Congress have fulfilled all expectations and gone on an all-out offensive.
“2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” (Photo: Daniel Beltra)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of the traditional coal-heavy state of Kentucky called the announcement “a dagger in the heart of the middle class, and to representative democracy itself.” Coal industry groups, pro-coal politicians and the US Chamber of Commerce went on record over and over, stating the proposed rules would kill jobs, hurt the economy and raise utility bills for average Americans. Unfortunately for the coal industry, as we’ve reported here at Truthout, climate change is a reality that can no longer be ignored. Reynolds, whose organization works to help citizens directly lobby their representatives on climate issues, wrote in a recent editorial that critics of the EPA’s plan must come up with a better idea or “hold their tongue. In other words, it’s time to put up or shut up on global warming solutions,” Reynolds wrote in The Huffington Post.
“Canals dredged by the energy industry near Lafitte were never refilled.” (Photo Jeff Riedel)
“If Republicans don’t want more EPA regulations, their best recourse is to deliver a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which is supported by conservatives from George Shultz to Greg Mankiw,” Reynolds said in a statement. “With the REMI study showing a carbon tax that returns revenue to households will add millions of jobs, this is the option everyone can embrace.” A carbon tax does sound like a plan that everyone – except the fossil fuel industry – can embrace, but with the coal industry and the Obama administration poised to battle over historic emission limits for power plants, it’s unlikely a serious carbon tax proposal will be on the table any time soon. Still, groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby believe that a tax on carbon could garner support from voters across the political spectrum.
If REMI’s calculations are correct, a carbon tax seems to make clear economic sense: It would force the market toward embracing alternatives to fossil fuels while creating jobs and improving the environment. But it would also do something else that Reynolds and Nystrom failed to elaborate on – force the fossil fuel industry to give back to the public. We all must breath the air and live in a world with a changing climate due to fossil fuel consumption, but most of us never share in the industry’s profits, even as our public lands and waters are leased to private oil and gas companies for drilling and exploration. The most we can hope for is a reasonable utility bill and a cheap tank of gas every so often. If we’re going to let these industries ravage the earth in the name of cheap energy, then we might as well get a cut.
The March of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption
by Dahr Jamail / 24 February 2014
“Last year marked the 37th consecutive year of above-average global temperature, according to data from NASA. The signs of advanced Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) are all around us, becoming ever more visible by the day. At least for those choosing to pay attention.
An Abundance of Signs
While the causes of most of these signs cannot be solely attributed to ACD, the correlation of the increasing intensity and frequency of events to ACD is unmistakable. Let’s take a closer look at a random sampling of some of the more recent signs. Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city (over 12 million people), will see its biggest water-supply system run dry soon if there is no rain. Concurry, a town in Australia’s outback, is so dry after two rainless years that their mayor is now looking at permanent evacuation as a final possibility. Record temperatures in Australia have been so intense that in January, around 100,000 bats literally fell from the sky during an extreme heat wave. A now-chronic drought in California, which is also one of the most important agricultural regions in the United States, has reached a new level of severity never before recorded on the US drought monitor in the state. In an effort to preserve what little water remained, state officials there recently announced they would cut off water that the state provides to local public water agencies that serve 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland. Another impact of the drought there has 17 communities about to run out of water.
Leading scientists have discussed how California’s historic drought has been worsened by ACD, and a recent NASA report on the drought, by some measures the deepest in over a century, adds: “The entire west coast of the United States is changing color as the deepest drought in more than a century unfolds. According to the US Dept. of Agriculture and NOAA, dry conditions have become extreme across more than 62% of California’s land area – and there is little relief in sight. “Up and down California, from Oregon to Mexico, it’s dry as a bone,” comments JPL climatologst Bill Patzert. “To make matters worse, the snowpack in the water-storing Sierras is less than 20% of normal for this time of the year. The drought is so bad, NASA satellites can see it from space. On Jan. 18, 2014 – just one day after California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency – NASA’s Terra satellite snapped a sobering picture of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Where thousands of square miles of white snowpack should have been, there was just bare dirt and rock.”
Meanwhile, New Mexico’s chronic drought is so severe the state’s two largest rivers are now regularly drying up. Summer 2013 saw the Rio Grande drying up only 18 miles south of Albuquerque, with the drying now likely to spread north and into the city itself. By September 2013, nearly half of the entire US was in moderate to extreme drought. During a recent interview, a climate change scientist, while discussing ACD-induced drought plaguing the US Southwest, said that he had now become hesitant to use the word drought, because “the word drought implies that there is an ending.”
As if things aren’t already severe enough, the new report Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers shows that much of the oil and gas fracking activity in both the United States and Canada is happening in “arid, water stressed regions, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks” that will strongly and negatively impact the local ecosystem, communities and people living nearby. The president of the organization that produced this report said, “Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions. Barring stiffer water-use regulations and improved on-the-ground practices, the industry’s water needs in many regions are on a collision course with other water users, especially agriculture and municipal water use.” Recent data from NASA shows that one billion people around the world now lack access to safe drinking water. Last year at an international water conference in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.” Experts now warn that the world is “standing on a precipice” when it comes to growing water scarcity.
“Ice melt due to climate change leaves thousands of walruses stuck on Alaska shoreline”
Looking northward, Alaska, given its Arctic geo-proximity, regularly sees the signs of advanced ACD. According to a recent NASA report on the northernmost US state: “The last half of January was one of the warmest winter periods in Alaska’s history, with temperatures as much as 40°F (22°C) above normal on some days in the central and western portions of the state, according to Weather Underground’s Christopher Bart. The all-time warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27 when the temperature peaked at 62°F (16.7°C) at Port Alsworth. Numerous other locations – including Nome, Denali Park Headquarters, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, Talkeetna, and Kotzebue – all set January records. The combination of heat and rain has caused Alaska’s rivers to swell and brighten with sediment, creating satellite views reminiscent of spring and summer runoff.” Another recent study published in The Cryosphere shows that Alaska’s Arctic icy lakes are losing their thickness and fewer are freezing all the way through to the bottom during winter. This should not come as a surprise, given that the reflective capacity of Arctic sea ice has is disappearing at twice the rate previously shown. As aforementioned, science now shows that global temperatures are rising every year. In addition to this overall trend, we are now in the midst of a 28-year streak of summer records above the 20th century average.
In another indicator from the north, a new study by the UC Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research showed that average summer temperatures in the Eastern Canadian Arctic during the last 100 years are higher now than during any century in the past 44,000 years, and indications are that Canadian Arctic temperatures today have not been matched or exceeded for roughly 120,000 years. Research leader Gifford Miller added, “The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is. This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” As ACD progresses, weather patterns come to resemble a heart-rate chart for a heart in defibrillation. Hence, rather than uniform increases in drought or temperatures, we are experiencing haphazard chaotic extreme weather events all over the planet, and the only pattern we might safely assume to continue is an intensification of these events, in both strength and frequency.
Iran’s Lake Urmia, once the largest lake in the country, has shrunk to less than half its normal size, causing Iran to face a crisis of water supply. The situation is so dire, government officials are making contingency plans to ration water in Tehran, a city of 22 million. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has even named water as a “national security issue,” and when he gives public speeches in areas impacted by water shortages he is now promising residents he will “bring the water back.” In other parts of the world, while water scarcity is heightening already strained caste tensions in India, the UK is experiencing the opposite problems with water. January rains brought parts of England their wettest January since records began more than 100 years ago. The UK’s Met Office reported before the end of that month that much of southern England and parts of the Midlands had already seen twice the average rainfall for January, and there were still three days left in the month. January flooding across the UK went on to surpass all 247 years of data on the books, spurring the chief scientist at Britain’s Met Office to say that “all the evidence” suggests that the extreme weather in the UK is linked to ACD. Another part of the world facing a crisis from too much water is Fiji, where residents from a village facing rising sea levels that are flooding their farmlands and seeping into their homes are having to flee. The village is the first to have its people relocated under Fiji’s “climate change refugee” program.
“Thousands of typhoon-toppled banana trees on a plantation in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province, on December 7, 2012” (photo Ted Aljibe)
More bad news comes from a recently published study showing that Earth’s vegetation could be saturated with carbon by the end of this century, and would thus cease acting as a break on ACD. However, this study could be an under-estimate of the phenomenon, as it is based on a predicted 4C rise in global temperature by 2100, and other studies and modeling predict a 4C temperature increase far sooner. (The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research suggests a 4C temperature increase by 2060. The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100. The UN Environment Program predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.) Whenever we reach the 4C increase, whether it is by 2050, or sooner, this shall mark the threshold at which terrestrial trees and plants are no longer able to soak up any more carbon from the atmosphere, and we will see an abrupt increase in atmospheric carbon, and an even further acceleration of ACD.
And it’s not just global weather events providing the signs. Other first-time phenomena abound as well. For the first time, scientists have discovered species of Atlantic Ocean zooplankton reproducing in Arctic waters. German researchers say the discovery indicates a possible shift in the Arctic zooplankton community as the region warms, one that could be detrimental to Arctic birds, fish, and marine mammals. Another study shows an increase in both the range and risk for malaria due to ACD, and cat parasites have even been found in Beluga whales in the Arctic, in addition to recently published research showing other diseases in seals and other Arctic life.
Distressing signs of ACD’s increasing decimation of life continue unabated. In addition to between 150-200 species going extinct daily, Monarch butterflies are now in danger of disappearing as well. Experts recently reported that the numbers of Monarch butterflies have dropped to their lowest levels since record-keeping began. At their peak, the butterflies covered an area of Mexican pine and fir forests of 44.5 acres. Now, after steep and persistent declines in the last three years, they only cover 1.65 acres. Extreme weather trends, illegal logging, and a dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat are all to blame. A recently published study that spanned 27-years showed that ACD is “killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks.” Torrential rainstorms and extreme heat are killing the young birds in significant numbers. Distressingly, the vast majority of these citations and studies are only from the last six weeks.
More Pollution, More Denial
Meanwhile, the polluting continues as global carbon emissions only continue to increase. Another recent study shows that black carbon emissions in India and China could be two to three times more concentrated than previously estimated. Black carbon is a major element of soot, and comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The study showed that parts of India and China could have as much as 130 percent higher black carbon concentrations than shown in standard country models. India is now rated as having some of the worst air quality in the world, and is tied with China for exposing its population to hazardous air pollution.
Meanwhile, Australian government authorities recently approved a project that will dump dredged sediment near the Great Barrier Reef, a so-called World Heritage Site, to create one of the world’s largest coal ports. Also on the front lines of the coal industry, miners now want to ignite deep coal seams to capture the gases created from the fires to use them for power generation. It’s called underground coal gasification, it is on deck for what comes next after the fracking blitz, and it is a good idea for those wishing to turn Earth into Venus. Then we have BP’s “Energy Outlook” for the future, an annual report where the oil giant plots trends in global energy production and consumption. With this, we can expect nothing less than full steam ahead when it comes to vomiting as much carbon into the atmosphere in as short a time as possible. BP CEO Bob Dudley announced at a January press conference that his company’s Outlook sees carbon emissions projected to rise “29% by 2035.”
“2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” (Photo: Daniel Beltra)
Speaking of BP, the corporate-driven government of the United States continues to serve its masters well. The US State Department recently released its environmental impact statement that found “no major climate impact” from a continuation in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that will transport tar sands oil – the dirtiest fossil fuel on Earth, produced by the most environmentally destructive fossil fuel extraction process ever known. US President Barack Obama claims he has yet to make a decision on the pipeline, but we can guess what his decision shall be. In late January, the US House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down an amendment that would have stated conclusively that ACD is occurring, despite recent evidence that ACD has literally shifted the jet stream, the main system that helps determine all of the weather in North America and Northern Europe. The 24 members of the committee who voted down the amendment, all of them Republicans and more overtly honest about who they are working for than is Obama, have accepted approximately $9.3 million in career contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries.
“2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” (Photo: Daniel Beltra)
The fact that the planet is most likely long past having gone over the cliff when it comes to passing the point of no return regarding ACD is a fact most people prefer not to contemplate. And who can blame them? The relentless onslaught of distress signals from the planet, coupled with the fact that the governments of the countries generating the most emissions are those marching lock-step with the fossil fuel industries are daunting, to say the least. Oil, gas, and coal are the fuels the capitalist system uses to generate the all-important next quarterly profit on the road toward infinite growth, as required by the capitalist system. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, and thinking the radical change necessary to preserve what life remains on the planet is possible without the complete removal of the system that is killing us, is futile. Half measures, as we have seen all too often, avail us nothing.
Cofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador’s Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has sided squarely with the 30,000 plaintiffs, Indians and colonists, in a class-action suit, dubbed an Amazon Chernobyl by environmentalists, over the slow poisoning of a Rhode Island-sized expanse of rainforest with millions of gallons of oil and billions more of toxic wastewater. (Photo: Dolores Ochoa)
Shale gas: make polluters pay for the social cost of fracking
by Chris Hope / 1 January 2014
“While the prime minister has shown unequivocal support for exploiting Britain’s shale gas reserves, stating the country should “go all out for shale gas”, more cautious voices point to possible effects such as minor earthquakes, contamination of water sources and industrialisation of the countryside. Besides these, shale gas will contribute to climate change in two ways, from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when the gas is burnt, and from the fugitive emissions of underground methane (CH4) that leak into the atmosphere as the gas is extracted. These concerns have led to protests against the drilling of shale gas exploratory wells. Others are more willing to accept shale gas, but as a fuel used only for a few years as the country gears up for a low carbon future.
“Arsenic levels in groundwater across the U.S.”
Putting a price on it
How are we to make sense of this? One approach is to avoid the all-or-nothing rhetoric and instead insist that the companies producing shale gas, like every other polluter, should pay for the environmental damage shale gas will bring upon future generations through its contribution to climate change. How much should they pay? For every tonne of CO2 emitted when the shale gas is burned, the company producing it should pay the amount by which it increases the impacts of climate change. This is known as the social cost of carbon. In a similar fashion, for every tonne of methane that escapes into the atmosphere it should pay for the social cost of methane. The social cost of carbon has been well studied over the years. The model we use to calculate it, the PAGE09 integrated assessment model, employs simple equations to simulate the results from more complex, specialised, scientific and economic models. It does this while accounting for the profound uncertainty that exists around climate change.
“Creeping industrialisation of the countryside: oil and gas wells in Texas”
Calculations are made for eight world regions, ten time periods to the year 2200, for four types of impact (sea level rise, economic impacts, non‐economic impacts, and discontinuities, such as the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets). On our present emissions path, the best estimate is that the social cost is a little more than US$100 per tonne of CO2. The social cost of methane has been much less studied. We know from estimates of Global Warming Potentials – the warming effects of each greenhouse gas – that methane, tonne for tonne, is much more potent than CO2. Initial results from the PAGE09 model indicate that at our present rate of emissions, the best estimate is that the social cost of methane is a little over US$1,500 per tonne. This is why the prospect of considerable methane emissions from fracking has caused such concern.
“Tailing Ponds, Tar Sands, Alberta, Canada” (photo: Colin Finlay)
“Tailing Ponds from Alcoa Aluminum Plant, Texas” (photo Colin Finlay)
The polluter pays
How would this approach work in practice? Every company involved in shale gas exploration and production would know from the start that they would have to pay a tax equivalent to the social cost on each tonne of CO2 emitted, and another equivalent to the cost of each tonne of methane escaping from their wells. Many prospects that initially look promising will turn out not to be worth pursuing once these taxes are factored into the calculation. The better, cheaper, prospects where fugitive emissions can be minimised will be favoured. Should shale gas be a transitional fuel? Tax will determine this. If we carry on along our present path, the social cost of carbon increases in real terms by a little more than 2% per year, doubling in about 30 years. For methane, the cost rises a little faster, doubling in about 20 years. So fewer and fewer shale gas prospects will look attractive as time goes by. On the other hand, if the world is very successful at bringing global greenhouse gas emissions under control, the social costs will not increase over time, and shale gas will be able to play more of a role for longer. If climate change “lukewarmists” are right and the effects of greenhouse gases on the climate has been overstated, then these social costs will end up lower, around US$65 and US$1,000 per tonne respectively, which would allow more shale gas development.
“Soda Processing, Lake Magadi, Kenya” (photo Colin Finlay)
Applying climate change-based taxes like these to shale gas should be attractive to the government. It is a market-based approach which encourages cleaner development and innovation to reduce environmental impact. It offers the prospect of significant tax revenues, which start at US$100 per tonne of CO2 and US$1,500 per tonne of methane, but which will rise in real terms – all at a time of austerity when the budget deficit is still a concern. Under the Institute of Directors’ central production estimate, and with a central methane leakage rate of 2%, the tax revenues will be about £6bn per year (in current prices) by the time shale gas production really gets going in the latter half of the 2020s. This is all based on the polluter-pays principle that should be at the heart of this self-described “greenest government ever”. The government’s “sweeteners”, of 1% of shale gas revenues to local communities and handing local authorities all of the business rates arising from shale gas wells, can be seen as a financial compensation for the disruption fracking will cause locally. The introduction of climate change taxation would tackle the far greater global disruption that the climate effects of shale gas would otherwise bring.”
“Choccolocco Creek, Anniston, Alabama, 2012” (photo Mathieu Asselin)
DAMAGES AWARDED for DECLINE in PROPERTY VALUES
Canada’s Largest Environmental Class Action Judgment Based on Pollution: Nickel Refinery to Pay $36M to Homeowners
by Steven F. Rosenhek, Rosalind H. Cooper, & Kimberly Potter / September 15, 2010
“In Canada’s largest ever environmental class action decision based on pollution, damages were assessed against Vale (formerly Inco Limited) in the amount of $36 million. This represented compensation to a class of homeowners whose property values declined when it became public that their properties were contaminated with nickel. This was the first environmental class action to proceed to trial in a common law province. The class action was brought on behalf of approximately 7,000 residents of Port Colborne, Ontario. Inco Limited operated a nickel refinery between 1918 and 1984 that deposited nickel particles, primarily in the form of nickel oxide, onto the properties of the class members. The plaintiffs claimed damages only for the diminution in their property values; their action did not include claims for adverse health effects or personal injury, as certification on those issues had been denied earlier by the court. After a three–month–long trial, Justice Henderson of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held that Vale was liable to the plaintiffs under the Rylands v. Fletcher strict liability doctrine and liable in private nuisance. However, Vale was found not liable in trespass or public nuisance. In making his findings, Justice Henderson addressed a number of novel legal issues pertaining to environmental class actions.
Justice Henderson found that Inco was strictly liable for the damage caused by the escape of nickel deposits onto class members’ lands. He found that Inco satisfied the two criteria for a strict liability claim derived from Rylands v. Fletcher: a non-natural use of the land and an escape from the land of something likely to do mischief. With respect to the first criterion, Justice Henderson held that a non-natural use of the land constitutes the defendant bringing onto his property something which was not naturally there. He held that it was not relevant that Inco used the land for a lawful commercial purpose in accordance with all environmental and zoning regulations. With respect to the second criterion, Justice Henderson held that although nickel and nickel particles are not dangerous per se, the escape of these elements had the potential to cause damage to neighbouring properties, and therefore the second element of the strict liability criteria was also fulfilled. Justice Henderson further held that a single, isolated escape is not a prerequisite for a strict liability claim; it can extend to a long-term, ongoing escape as well.
“House located close the former Monsanto Plant (Solutia Plant today), abandoned due to a high level of PCBs. Monsanto’s facility was in a primarily low-income neighborhood and affected more than 20,000 people. Today, it represents the biggest population affected by a single contamination. In recent years, Monsanto has bought and demolished around 100 PCB-contaminated houses and businesses in the area, turning the neighborhood into a virtual ghost town.” (photo Mathieu Asselin)
Inco’s conduct was also found to amount to a private nuisance. There are two distinct branches of nuisance: material physical damage to the plaintiffs’ property, and significant interference with the beneficial use of the premises. The class members relied on the first branch, and Justice Henderson found that they made out their claim. Justice Henderson held that he was not required to balance external factors in making this determination; however, even if he was, he held that the public utility of Inco’s refinery was outweighed by the harm it caused. Although Inco relied on a series decisions that held that a claim for diminution of property values can only be successful if the plaintiffs have sold or have attempted to sell their properties (and thus realized the loss), Justice Henderson held that these cases were not relevant because they referred to the second branch of nuisance, not the first.
Inco was found not liable in trespass because a claim in trespass requires a direct and physical intrusion by the defendant onto land that is in possession of the plaintiffs, and Justice Henderson held that permitting nickel particles to migrate from Inco’s property onto the class members’ lands was an indirect intrusion. Moreover, Inco was held not liable in public nuisance because it was not alleged that Inco’s conduct affected public health, public morals, public conduct, or the use of a public place. Justice Henderson also held that the above claims were not statute-barred. He determined that the claims were discoverable not when the contamination occurred, but when most of the plaintiffs knew, or ought to have known, that the contamination had caused a diminution in their property values.
Although Inco ceased refining nickel in Port Colborne in 1984, and most of the class members would have been aware of the possibility of nickel deposits on their properties before 1990 (when Inco asserted that the six year limitation period expired), Justice Henderson held that the claims only arose in 2000 after the Ontario Ministry of the Environment publicly distributed a report showing elevated levels of nickel on the plaintiffs’ properties, which caused concerns about adverse health consequences. The damage award was calculated by comparing property values in Port Colborne with nearby Welland. Justice Henderson accepted expert testimony that the uncertainty of the effect of contamination on health and property values in the future amounted to a “disamenity,” and so buyers would only purchase property in Port Colborne at a discount.”
TRANSNATIONAL CLASS ACTION LAWSUITS
Draft limits Chinese class-action pollution-related lawsuits
by Zhao Yinan / 2013-06-26
“The All-China Environmental Federation and its local offices may be the only entity in China that is allowed to file class-action lawsuits regarding pollution, if a draft amendment is passed. The amendment to the Environmental Protection Law, proposed to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Wednesday, limits the legal entities permitted to file environment-related class-action lawsuits to just one – the “All-China Environmental Federation and its branches at provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities”. The proposal has met strong objections from many environment observers. Li Gang, a lawyer specializing in environmental litigation, said the draft has effectively deprived other social groups of their litigation rights.”
“Ka’apor indigenous group in Brazilian Amazon takes direct action against loggers”
Supreme Court Colludes with Monsanto
by Stephen Lendman / 05/2013
“It’s no surprise. Michael Parenti calls America’s High Court its “autocratic branch.” It’s notoriously pro-business. It’s longstanding. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway (1886), it granted corporations legal personhood. More recently, in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes et al (June 2011), it denied longstanding sexual discrimination class action redress. It overruled a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision doing so. In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (April 2011), it did so two months earlier. It blocked class action redress claiming fraud. The company’s wireless subsidiary charged sales tax on cellphones it advertised as free. Two California courts rules for plaintiffs. The High Court overruled them. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled for money power over democratic governance. One dollar = one vote. Corporations and PACs can spend all they want. Doing so more than ever lets them control US elections. Voters are effectively disenfranchised. They have no say whatever. Numerous other rulings show America’s High Court is supremely pro-business. The Roberts Court is more so than previous ones. Even The New York Times noticed. On May 4, it headlined “Corporations Find a Friend in the Supreme Court.” It rejected an anti-trust class action suit against Comcast. Subscribers sought to prove unfair competition and overcharges. Wrongdoing was dismissed 5 – 4. It didn’t surprise. It’s consistently pro-business. Doing so facilitates corporate empowerment, discriminatory practices, willful fraud, and products harming human health.
“Complete Genes May Pass from GMO Food to Human Blood”
Bowman v. Monsanto again showed where America’s High Court stands. Justice again was denied. Corporate interests alone matter. In 2007, Monsanto sued Vernon Bowman. He’s an Indiana farmer. At issue was alleged patent infringement. He bought mixed soybean seeds. He did so from a grain elevator. He planted them a second time. He supplemented them with soybeans bought from the same source. Monsanto’s licensing agreement forbids second plantings. It wants seeds sold used only once. It wants farmers to pay each time they plant. Bowman claimed no patent infringement. It expired on what he first bought. He supplemented with commodity soybeans. They’re usually used for feed. He said they naturally “self-replicate or sprout unless stored in a controlled manner.” In other words, he planted soybeans, not new seeds. He violated no law. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the court opinion. She didn’t surprise. She and other justices spurn judicial fairness. They do so in defense of privilege. She rejected what she called “that blame-the-bean defense.” Bowman had no chance. He was no match against Monsanto. He was ordered to pay nearly $85,000 in damages. He’s a small farmer. Doing so may bankrupt him. Longstanding agribusiness plans call for greater consolidation at the expense of small competitors. Bowman lost at the district, appellate and High Court levels. They ruled one way. They claimed patent exhaustion doesn’t permit farmers to replant seeds and harvest them without patent holder’s permission. Generic drug companies freely do it. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act permits it. Once patents expire, holders no longer have exclusive rights. In 2014, the last of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready US patents will expire. Monsanto’s supposed to lose exclusivity. At issue is will or won’t it happen?
“GMO Complete Genes Pass from Food to Human Blood – Figure 1. Coverage of the tomato chloroplast in the IBD sample.” doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069805.g001
Expect Monsanto to press hard to keep it. Earlier it said it wants international regulatory Roundup Ready soybeans support until 2021. It’s unclear if other companies will be able to sell generic versions. Monsanto won’t make it easy to do so. On May 13, Food Democracy Now (FDN) denounced the Supreme Court ruling. Executive director Dave Murphy accused Washington of complicity in permitting the “corporate takeover of (America’s) food supply.” “Today,” he said, “the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the corporate takeover of our food supply, in a huge win for Monsanto, and a major loss for America’s farmers and consumers. Monsanto has long engaged in an effort to subvert family farmers that do not use their genetically-engineered seeds, and the Court has now handed corporations even more control over what our families eat.
Currently, Food Democracy Now! is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit in the District Court of Appeals, Organic Seed Associations et Al. v Monsanto to protect America’s farmers from unwanted contamination of their crops by Monsanto’s patented genetically-engineered plants. Our nation’s family farmers grow our food on farms where cross-pollination between organic, non-GMO crops and Monsanto’s genetically-engineered patented crops is regular and naturally-occurring process. The Court’s decision to give Monsanto the power to control the future harvest of America’s family farmers and our county’s food supply is deeply troubling, immoral and a very bad sign for the future of our nation’s food.” In March 2013, Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act. It’s the Farmer Assurance Provision rider in HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013. Monsanto lawyers wrote it. It permits circumventing judicial decisions. If courts rule GMOs unsafe, Monsanto’s free to ignore them. So can the Secretary of Agriculture.
A Final Comment
Throughout its history, Monsanto produced harmful products. Some eventually were banned. Its recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) increased milk production in cows. It caused painful mastitis, infections and reproductive problems. Large amounts of puss and blood were found in rBGH milk. Potential linkage to cancer was discovered. EU nations and Canada banned it. It’s still sold in America. Monsanto lobby power permits it. Monsanto’s polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) was extremely toxic. It caused cancer and other diseases. Many products contained it. It was dumped in rivers and streams nationwide. Harmful environmental damage followed. Concentrated areas created health crises. In 1976, Congress banned it. Monsanto’s DDT inspired Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” She exposed aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, and other dangerously toxic chemicals She inspired environmental justice advocacy groups. America banned DDT. So did other countries. It’s still used in tropical countries. It’s done to control malaria.
Monsanto’s legacy includes Agent Orange. It contains dioxin. It’s one of the most deadly substances known. It’s a potent carcinogenic human immune system suppressant. Minute amounts cause serious health problems and death. Exposure results in congenital disorders and birth defects. It causes cancer, type two diabetes, and numerous other diseases. Its widespread Southeast Asian use produced horrific consequences. Millions were affected. Many died. Living victims still suffer. Many Vietnam vets and US citizens in theater were affected. Proliferating hazardous GMOs may be worst of all. Widespread food contamination poses enormous threats. Sanctioning Monsanto’s use makes Washington complicit. People have a right to know what they’re eating. Failure to prohibit substances harming human health violates the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause.
Poca River basin is part of the area locally known as the “Chemical Valley”. During its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, the area was the leading chemical producer in the world. Monsanto’s plant near the town of Nitro was the primary manufacturer of Agent Orange.“The waste and residues from the plant were illegally dumped around the area. For years, the leaks from the dump sites have contaminated Poca River which joins Kanawha River, the largest inland waterway in West Virginia.” (photos: Mathieu Asselin)
Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene
by Roy Scranton / November 10, 2013
“Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets. With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.
I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived. Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Sill, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.
And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away. This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, “that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’ Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser,said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”
On the civilian side, the World Bank’s recent report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” offers a dire prognosis for the effects of global warming, which climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years. Projections from researchers at the University of Hawaii find us dealing with “historically unprecedented” climates as soon as 2047. The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich,Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others. This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it.
There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and the The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums. The geophysicist David Archer’s 2009 book, “The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate,” lays out a clear and concise argument for how huge concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and melting ice will radically transform the planet, beyond freak storms and warmer summers, beyond any foreseeable future. The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London — the scientists responsible for pinning the “golden spikes” that demarcate geological epochs such as the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene — have adopted the Anthropocene as a term deserving further consideration, “significant on the scale of Earth history.”Working groups are discussing what level of geological time-scale it might be (an “epoch” like the Holocene, or merely an “age” like the Calabrian), and at what date we might say it began. The beginning of the Great Acceleration, in the middle of the 20th century? The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800? The advent of agriculture?
“Heavy metal waste from fertilizer production. This is one of the top 10% most polluting factories in the USA. It is known to be a major emitter of lead, but the fertilizer industry in particular has been effective in pressuring the EPA to reduce the reporting requirements to which it is subject, making the clear picture of its emissions difficult” (photo: J Henry Fair)
Before the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act forced fertilizer companies to start storing wastes on land, the disposal site of choice was nearest available water body, in this case the Mississippi River. Though the new regulations required them to cease indiscriminate dumping, they were exempt from reporting the content of the effluent, which is highly radioactive and acidic due to the combination of the uranium byproducts found with the raw phosphate rock and the sulphuric acid used to process it. These stacks are unlined, and interaction between the waste material and groundwater is inevitable. Sometimes, due to miscalculation, the weight of the waste is too great to be supported by the land below, which collapses, causing a sinkhole and allowing the toxics to mix with the aquifer below.
The challenge the Anthropocene poses is a challenge not just to national security, to food and energy markets, or to our “way of life” — though these challenges are all real, profound, and inescapable. The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human. Within 100 years — within three to five generations — we will face average temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, rising seas at least three to 10 feet higher, and worldwide shifts in crop belts, growing seasons and population centers. Within a thousand years, unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases wholesale right now, humans will be living in a climate the Earth hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when oceans were 75 feet higher than they are today. We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks upon which the global economy depends, a large-scale die-off in the biosphere that’s already well on its way, and our own possible extinction. If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited. Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide?
Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans? Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?” In the epoch of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality — “What does my life mean in the face of death?” — is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end? These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.
Learning how to die isn’t easy. In Iraq, at the beginning, I was terrified by the idea. Baghdad seemed incredibly dangerous, even though statistically I was pretty safe. We got shot at and mortared, and I.E.D.’s laced every highway, but I had good armor, we had a great medic, and we were part of the most powerful military the world had ever seen. The odds were good I would come home. Maybe wounded, but probably alive. Every day I went out on mission, though, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole. “For the soldier death is the future, the future his profession assigns him,” wrote Simone Weil in her remarkable meditation on war, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force.” “Yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” That was the face I saw in the mirror, and its gaze nearly paralyzed me.
“Buildings in the western Japanese city of Osaka, some 2,250 kilometers (1,400 miles) southeast of Beijing, are shrouded in dense smog Wednesday, February 26, 2014 a day after parts of northern China suffered a sixth straight day of severe pollution. The readings of particulate matter known as PM2.5, a key measure of pollution reached 104 micrograms per cubic meter in Osaka in the morning. The World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms a safe level.” (Photo: Kyodo News)
I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”
I got through my tour in Iraq one day at a time, meditating each morning on my inevitable end. When I left Iraq and came back stateside, I thought I’d left that future behind. Then I saw it come home in the chaos that was unleashed after Katrina hit New Orleans. And then I saw it again when Sandy battered New York and New Jersey: Government agencies failed to move quickly enough, and volunteer groups like Team Rubicon had to step in to manage disaster relief. Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world. Our new home.
The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.
The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization isalready dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality. The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear. If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.”
TRUE COSTS & CITIZENS DIVIDENDS