Friday, December 20, 2013

holocaust: 3A-who do the odds favor?

It’s probably not a shock I like dystopian novels and consider them cautionary tales. Since my oldest is into The Hunger Games, it’s on my mind a lot. Plus there are similarities that make us uncomfortably like the folks in the capitol. 

Without digging beneath the surface of things, we are preoccupied with entertainment in the forms of fashion, sports, reality TV and ‘human interest’ stories, as though what media presents is all there is to see. We have more consumables than we could possibly use or need. In a nod to globalization, these consumables come from outlying districts we’re only vaguely familiar with. Our goods have been extracted, harvested, and manufactured in conditions and through means of which we are oblivious. 

You may think the disparity between those in the capitol enjoying their coal driven technology and leisure and the poverty in District 12 is fabricated but it aptly parallels the true poverty of coal ravaged Appalachian regions and our own coal driven technology and leisure. 

And although we claim we would not endure the suffering of others, we are willing to sacrifice others to maintain our standard of living in the capitol. In our case we sacrifice nature and people.

This is environmental privilege.

In my fuel usage, I experience benefits without having to regard the true price. I drive my child across town for camp. I burn fuel to pursue my interests. In fact, some of my entertainment is based on burning fuel. I am unaware of the environmental privilege scaffolding me and mine above others. Even more so with tar sands oil, privilege allows me to think what I pay at the pump is the cost and boy, am I miffed if that seems too high. But my heritage is not being siphoned. My family’s private land is not coopted from me. My neighborhood doesn’t compromise my health and my water supply is, for the moment, safe. As for my children’s future of diminishing fresh water and an unstable climate, I can busy myself with test scores and extracurriculars.

Privilege allows me to disengage from the slow motion holocaust of people and nature while perpetuating it. Again, like those in the capitol, I feel entitled to focus on my own comfort and pleasure. And why wouldn’t I? I’ve earned it, right?

I have no more earned the right to clean air, water and soil than a First Nations Cree child deserves to eat tumor-encrusted salmon. Does yours?

I know. No one wants to hear this.

We want easy, convenient things to do like don’t idle or don’t top off the tank. We want the particulars of our lives to continue unaffected. But what about the particulars in the lives of those affected by tar sands? We have created a mess through ease and convenience and something more is required. Easy and convenient would be like asking the people in the capitol to tone down their hairdos in order to equalize the distribution of goods to outlying districts. 

Addressing environmental privilege is different than addressing racial, class or gender privilege. Leveling the playing field, in this case, doesn’t mean equal squandering of natural resources for all. Because environmental privilege is predicated on destruction-based consumption, the goal isn’t for everyone to be entitled to the same environmental license I have.

For those of us in the capitol, it means understanding the flip side of environmental privilege is environmental injustice. For starters then, it means educating ourselves about the resources we gobble up rather than unquestioningly consuming them. 

Tar sands pipelines crisscross North America compromising habitats, fresh water and the health of other beings (environmental injustice) to support my fuel consumption (environmental privilege). If I understand where my energy comes from, how it gets to me, who and what it impacts along the way, would I use it so blithely? If I myself would not pay with my health, habitat and heritage, why would I be content letting others do so?

Despite the illusion of the capitol, my choices do not exist in a bubble and are not neutral.

What makes Katniss such a compelling heroine is her compassion. Compassion moves her to volunteer as tribute, to honor Rue and to risk her life for Peeta. Through the trilogy, Katniss struggles with saving her own skin and her sister's-the privilege to protect one's private bubble-or choosing what will ultimately benefit everyone. To be clear, it is privilege to think one can hide out in a private bubble, protecting one's own. But that only works for so long; environmental destruction harms everyone.

Addressing environmental privilege will require a change of heart. Compassion has to move us beyond our privilege, personal comfort and overweaning addiction to entertainment in order to see the environmental injustice inflicted on marginalized people and nature

It's the only way the odds can be in everyone's favor. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

holocaust: 2B-dominos

Maybe we cannot see a holocaust as it is happening because it evolves gradually. Incrementally, dominant society accepts the ideation about and treatment of a targeted group. Whatever injustice occurs is conveniently executed out of sight, thereby out of consciousness.

Human health hinges on a healthy environment. As bitumen is extracted, processed and travels North America through pipelines, it corrupts the environment and threatens the health of marginalized populations-those with the least social, political and financial means.

Northern Alberta
The Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First nation communities downstream from tar sands extraction experience higher rates of cancer, particularly rare forms. Since they subsist on a traditional diet, it may be connected to the deformed fish in Lake Athabasca or the moose that drink from it. And this may be connected to the higher incidence of arsenic, mercury, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead in the water. The fish that First Nations peoples consume exceed US guidelines for mercury consumption. This means that parents are feeding their children what, for centuries, they’ve always fed their children. Only now their children also get a dose of heavy metals with every bite.

Speaking of water, there is no contingency plan for tailing ponds once operations at a site are finished. A conservative estimate suggests operational tailing ponds leak about 3 gallons daily. Billions of cubic meters of contaminated water will be left unattended. Do you think anyone’s coming back to clean up? Do you think wildlife know this water is lethal? If the river had always provided your family food and drink, what are your options now?

Besides the water being compromised, remember the forest? Since it’s being clear cut, where will First Nations people get their medicine or supplies for rituals? People previously self-sufficient are now increasingly dependent on social services because the essentials for their traditional way of life are being destroyed.

Enbridge, the largest Canadian tar sands pipeline operator, pumps dilbit south through Leech Lake lands. To keep it flowing, dilbit requires a tremendous amount of heat and chemicals, both of which are corrosive to the pipes, causing fissures and spills all along their length. In fact, there have been over 2,500 pipelines spills in the last decade. In 2010, three spills occurred within a 35-mile radius of tribal boundaries. One spill wasn’t detected until an oil soaked marsh accidently caught on fire and tribal members had to alert the company. Although Enbridge has plans for new construction, there are no plans to clean up existing spills that have polluted tribal waters.

Two major aquifers in Leech Lake are part of a watershed that feeds the Mississippi. What would happen if the headwaters of the Mississippi River-which runs to the Gulf of Mexico-are compromised by tar sands?

Because of eminent domain, landowners and farmers do not have to consent to companies running pipelines through their private property. This is happening in rural areas all over the United States, including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. Anyway, how would a rural landowner or small farmer stand up to the money and might of an oil company bent on his or her land, even if aquifers, watersheds and community drinking water is at stake.

Refineries and heavy industry are mostly located in low-income communities where citizens have the least resources to protect themselves against polluters. 85 percent of residents are African American with a median household income half the national average. Southwest Detroit already has 27 high polluting facilities. Tar sands refineries would exacerbate the already compromised health suffered by people living in area neighborhoods. 

When ‘natural’ disasters occur, we rally with generous aid, astonishing compassion and even prayer to support stricken communities the world over. Why would we turn a blind eye then to the slow motion holocaust of nature and people? Fuel?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

holocaust: part 2A-social, political, economic

Only when the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned 
will we realise we cannot eat money.
-Cree Indian Proverb-

Covering 60% of the land area, the boreal region of Canada includes eight eco-zones. There are wetlands, temperate rainforest and deciduous woodlands, each with its own flora and fauna. It is the largest intact forest in the world. Consider the myriad life forms there:  85 species of mammals, 400 of birds, 160 of fish, 3200 of plants.

Why should you care about all that nature?

Because of its remoteness and intactness, 80% of Canada’s First Nations peoples have been able to maintain their traditional way of life for thousands of years. Through treaties signed with the Canadian government, over one million aboriginal people live literally off the land with fishing, hunting and land rights protected. They have been healthy and self-sufficient.

Until now.

Underneath the boreal forest, is the largest oil reserve outside of Saudi Arabia. Canada and oil companies want this oil from under land allocated to First Nations peoples.

We know a holocaust or genocide is executed and based on reasonably identifiable social, political and/or economic conditions. We also know how governments honor treaties when there’s profit to be had.

Why else might you care? 

Other than it’s beautiful, it is our best defense against climate change: 

The boreal forest is the planet’s greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. So, as the expansion of the tar sands consumes more boreal forest and wetlands, it is releasing to the atmosphere all the carbon stored in this ecosystem. At the same time, we also lose the long term future carbon sequestration of these forests and wetlands. In turn, they are replaced by an industrial operation which produces almost twice as much carbon as conventional oil production. Garth Lenz

To understand what’s happening to the boreal region, its inhabitants, including First Nations peoples, you need to understand the oil.

Bitumen is a thick mixture of hydrocarbons referred to as tar sands because of its viscosity. Tar sands is the dirtiest, most carbon intensive and destructive oil to extract and burn.

To get to it, the forest is clear-cut; meaning, all or most of the trees in an area are cut down.

Then it is strip-mined to uncover the bitumen.

Remember. This is where flora and fauna call home. It is home to First Nations peoples. 

As earlier mentioned, bitumen is thick. It can’t be pumped from the ground like conventional crude oil so steam from fracking natural gas, a water intensive process, is injected into the ground to turn it into a peanut butter consistency. 

100 billion gallons of water are drained daily from the Athabasca river because it takes four gallons of fresh water to process one gallon of tar sands into oil. 

It is further diluted with a mixture of proprietary chemicals euphemistically called diluents. Among them are these known carcinogens: mercury, lead, ammonia, benzene, cyanide, phenols, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, copper, sulphate, and chloride.

Wastewater and the leftover chemical cocktail used to create diluted bitumen or dilbit, is stored in tailing ponds. These open, unlined pools of poison are erected near the Athabasca riverthe world's largest freshwater delta, and routinely seep out into the ground water.

The mines and tailing ponds are so large, by the way, they can be seen from outer space.

Remember. The Athabasca is where First Nations peoples fish and recreate. It’s home to various flora and fauna. Do I need mention it’s a source of drinking water for communities along its 750 miles?

Large swaths of the boreal region are being turned from this:

To this:

The world burns through 85 million barrels a day.
There are 176 billion barrels of oil in the boreal region.

That’s only 5.6 years’ worth.

This is just the extraction process. We haven't even touched on how dilbit is transported, criss-crossing North America, pipelining toxins in its wake

What long-term holocaust are we consenting to for short-term social, political and economic gain?