August 6, 2019
“Be joyful. Though you have considered all the facts.”—Wendell Berry.
This week the editor casually followed a link that led to an interactive global map of forest fires. And a whole bunch of news and science clicked into place. We explore the people who have been stewarding our forests, and the greed and risks they incur for it.

But first the news.

But first about The Banner!

All we need is a trickle of small donations to come in for a few weeks, and that is going nicely. The Hamiltons, some of them, have graduated to Franklins. A week or so more and we’ll be set for another year of The Banner’s way-too-much newsletters!

And please remember, dear reader, to consider donating to the independent on-line news journals we draw from to present. At the end of each story, the last line ends with the name of the publisher and the date. If the publisher is in blue underlined italics, that is your clue that it is a link to an independent journal’s donation page. If you have the means, your editor highly recommends sending a few of them a bit from time to time – or a small monthly donation. They work hard, depending on our notice and gratitude. And now for the news!

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21st Annual Kateri Peace Conference

21st Annual Kateri Peace Conference – 2019 | 21st Annual 2019 Kateri Tekakwitha Peace Conference

For over 20 years the Kateri Tekakwitha Peace conference has met on the site of an historic Mohawk Village, a village that had to be abandoned, a life left behind, when the forces of disintegration swept over it.

Slowly, year after year, as we have revisited this sacred site, the wisdom of the land has seeped into our souls guiding us as we have worked to confront war and militarism, forces born out of greed, fear and a disconnect from nature and community, forces which  have become enormously destructive to the land we live on.

Facing the painful existential threat of climate collapse and then cultivating a garden of resilience requires a deep wisdom born of cultures more deeply connected to the land. We will begin by assessing where we now stand with clear and insightful evaluations of the climate as it is evolving and  look for sustainable ways forward to a place of resilience in the face of changes sure to come.

The three sisters, corn, beans and squash, offer a sustainable and mutually nurturing model of agriculture developed by the Iroquois. They also provide a fruitful metaphor for the cooperation, connectedness and community which  will  help us trough the difficult days ahead.

These will be the guiding values which we hope will allow us to find our way to a new balance in a path which cultivates resilience and sustainability.

More info:

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Breaking News: Federal Court Refuses Mountain Valley Pipeline Request to Remove Tree Sitters in Virginia

Federal Court Refuses Mountain Valley Pipeline Request
to Remove Tree Sitters in Virginia

Breaking News: Federal Court Refuses Mountain Valley Pipeline Request to Remove Tree Sitters in Virginia

In another stunning defeat for Mountain Valley Pipeline, a federal district court judge has denied the pipeline company’s request for an order removing tree sitters in southwest Virginia. 

Judge Elizabeth Dillon, in a fourteen page opinion, ruled that MVP had no right to add the tree sitters – who have been occupying trees in Elliston, Virginia for almost one year – as parties to an eminent domain case against the owners of the land on which the trees are located.  Dillon noted that there was no evidence that the landowners were acting in concert with the tree sitters.  She also noted that this is a condemnation proceeding to determine how much the landowners would be paid by MVP in return for the destruction of the land wrought by construction. 

The tree sitters, Dillon noted, are not seeking compensation.  Rather, Dillon noted, “the tree-sitters clearly seem to be protesting the pipeline as a whole.”

Dillon also noted that MVP has other options, such as bringing a state court action for trespass, or seeking a contempt ruling in federal court.  But since these are obvious alternatives, MVP must know that it would have difficulty prevailing in those actions.  How do we know that?  Because MVP filed its motion to evict the tree sitters last December.  The ruling was just issued today.  Presumably, if MVP had a good chance of prevailing in some other manner, they would have done something by now.

Dillon observed, for example, that the landowners could claim that they were entitled to remove the tree sitters under Virginia’s law of adverse possession.  One problem with that?  To prove adverse possession MVP would have to show that the tree sitters occupation of the trees was “actual, hostile [meaning under a claim of right and adverse to the owner], exclusive, visible, and continuous for a period of 15 years.”

Fifteen years.

As the court wryly observed, the landowners “failure to take action against the tree-sitters could eventually result in a property claim by the tree-sitters, but there is not one now.”…—Jonathan Sokolow, “Breaking News: Federal Court Refuses Mountain Valley Pipeline Request to Remove Tree Sitters in Virginia,” Medium, 8/2/19

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Federal judge rebukes FERC’s ‘Kafkaesque regime’

PIPELINES: Federal judge rebukes FERC’s ‘Kafkaesque regime’

A federal appellate court on August 2, 2019, upheld another Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval for a natural gas project — but not without a sharply worded judicial critique.

Judge Patricia Millett said she was bound by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit precedent to join her colleagues in rejecting a challenge by environmentalists and landowners to the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

In the same breath, she urged further review of a “Kafkaesque regime” by which FERC can trap landowners in “administrative limbo” while allowing pipeline developers to move full speed ahead.

“In cases involving private property rights, the Commission has transformed this court’s decisions upholding its tolling orders into a bureaucratic purgatory that only Dante could love,” Millett, an Obama appointee, wrote in her concurring opinion.

“While I acknowledge that circuit precedent currently forecloses the Homeowners’ constitutional challenge to the tolling orders, this case starkly illustrates why a second look by us or by the Commission is overdue,” she wrote.…—Pamela King, “PIPELINES: Federal judge rebukes FERC’s ‘Kafkaesque regime’,”  E&E News, 8/2/19

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Protesters Disrupt Oil and Gas Commission Hearing

Protesters Disrupt Oil and Gas Commission Hearing

“We’ve tried it your way. We tried to be polite, and yet you haven’t denied a single permit.”

Protests briefly shut down a meeting of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today, July 31, 2019, as climate and environmental activists continued to pressure the agency to crack down on the fossil fuel industry.

The meeting was the third regularly scheduled monthly hearing of the COGCC since the passage of a landmark oil and gas reform bill earlier this year — and by far the most contentious. In response to past complaints about cramped hearing rooms at the COGCC’s Denver headquarters, it was held at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, where commissioners heard from dozens of speakers during the three-hour public-comment period that began the hearing.

“We are suffering,” AnnMarie Cleary, a Broomfield resident who lives near a fracking site, told commissioners. “We’ve reported it. We’ve gone to doctors. We have health issues. This commission is a new commission, with a new vision, and the vision now is to first protect health and safety. We can no longer go on allowing everything until those rules are established.”

“The reason that we’re showing up and making more noise is that we’ve tried it your way,” said Suzanne Spiegel, an activist with anti-fracking group Colorado Rising. “We tried to be polite, and yet you haven’t denied a single permit.”…—Chase Woodruff, “Protesters Disrupt Oil and Gas Commission Hearing,” Westword, 7/31/19

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Power plant to add data center

Power plant to add data center

A combination of energy market forces, a change in New York State law, and tax incentives will bring a high-tech computer data center to Yates County. At July’s meeting of the board of directors of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC, Yates County’s sole industrial/economic development agency) a plan for the Greenidge Generation power plant near Dresden to install a 30 unit data center was presented by Greenidge attorney Kevin McAuliffe.

McAuliffe explained that with natural gas prices relatively high and electric prices comparatively low, Greenidge has not been generating electricity for public consumption. [Note well that Greenidge is equipped and authorized to burn biomass, a high carbon footprint fuel.—Editor] Parent company, Atlas Holdings, is looking for a way to get a return on their already substantial investment of $25 million to convert the former coal plant to natural gas and building a spur pipeline to supply it. A change in New York State’s energy market laws, allowing companies to use electricity they generate before it enters the grid market, makes the idea of an energy-thirsty enterprise like a data center a potentially lucrative one.

With six dark fiber lines available and the ability to generate over 100 megawatts of electricity, Greenidge is a prime location. The 30, 9 x 40 foot prefabricated containers, which look much like semi trailer boxes, will use just two of the dark fibers and approximately 65 megawatts of Greenidge electricity. The center will be built on three acres of the 132 acre industrial site, and result in over $4 million of property improvements for the tax rolls.

TAX INCENTIVES

FLEDC CEO Steve Griffin says this new project will not impact Greenidge Generation’s 2016 Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement in any way. The new improvements will be taxed as any other increased property values. The only tax incentive Greenidge will receive, if approved by FLEDC, will be a project agreement for sales tax exemption totaling just over $6 million on the $80 million dollar project. The vast majority of that investment is for the purchase of the 30 data units, which would not occur in Yates County, and thus would have no direct sales tax benefit here.

With a proposed sales tax exemption above $100,000, FLEDC must hold a public meeting before the board may vote on the project agreement. That meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20 in the meeting room of the Town of Torrey Office at 56 Geneva St. in Dresden.…—John Christensen, “Power plant to add data center,” The Chronicle Express 7/31/19

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1 dead, 5 injured in second Enbridge pipeline explosion this year

1 dead, 5 injured in second Enbridge pipeline explosion this year – NationofChange

“These incidents are just the latest in a growing list of injurious and deadly fossil fuel impacts across the United States.”

natural gas pipeline owned by Canadian company Enbridge exploded in Kentucky early Thursday, August 1, 2019, sending flames 300 feet into the sky, killing one woman and sending five people to the hospital, CBS News reported. The blast was so strong it showed up on radar.

“It was like an atomic bomb went off, basically,” one evacuee told WKYT, as CBS News reported. All told, around 75 people were forced to flee their homes in the Indian Camp trailer park in Moreland, The Associated Press reported.

The explosion occurred around 1 a.m. It destroyed at least five homes in the trailer park and damaged four others, The Louisville Courier Journal reported. It took firefighters hours to fight the flames, which burned trees and grass in the area and left only red dirt behind, according to The Associated Press.

“The part of the area that has been compromised, there’s just nothing left,” Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Don Gilliam said. “The residences that are still standing or damaged will be accessible. There doesn’t really look like there’s any in-between back there. They’re either destroyed or they’re still standing.”

The flames also melted tar on the nearby U.S. 127 and were visible throughout Lincoln County. The smoke could be seen from Louisville, 70 miles away, according to The Louisville Courier Journal.

Jodie Coulter, one of the five people injured, described the blast.

“I could feel it as we were running from the house,” Coulter told The Louisville Courier Journal. “I could feel it, like if you had your hand in an oven.”

The woman who died was identified as 58-year-old Lisa Denise Derringer, one of Coulter’s neighbors in the mobile home park. Kentucky State Police spokesman Robert Purdy said she may have left her home because of the fire and died from heat exposure, as The Associated Press reported.

Nearby railway tracks were also damaged, causing an overnight back-up of 31 trains, Purdy said.

The explosion was the second this year on Enbridge’s Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline, Reuters pointed out. Another explosion in Ohio in January on the same line injured two. But, as Quartz summarized, Enbridge overall has a history of disasters from both its natural gas and liquid oil pipelines. Its lines were behind both the Kalamazoo River spill, which dumped around one million gallons of tar sands oil into the Michigan waterway in 2010, and a 50,000 gallon oil spill in Wisconsin in 2012. A Greenpeace report found that the company averaged one hazardous liquid pipeline accident every 20 days between 2002 and 2018.…—Olivia Rosane, “1 dead, 5 injured in second Enbridge pipeline explosion this year,NationofChange, 8/3/19

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This is What the Climate Crisis Looks Like:
One Day After Crushing Heat Wave,
Flash Floods Inundate New York City

‘This is What the Climate Crisis Looks Like’: One Day After Crushing Heat Wave, Flash Floods Inundate New York City

“Looks like New York City declared their climate emergency just in time.”

Less than a month after New York City declared a climate emergency, the reality of the crisis came crashing home Monday as streets across Brooklyn and Queens were inundated with flash flooding a day after power went down in three boroughs due to a heat wave. 

Commuters headed home late in the day were stymied by trains shut down due to flash flooding from rain that hit the city after a days-long heat wave that drove temperatures into the triple digits.

“This is what the climate crisis looks like,” tweeted youth-led environmental movement Sunrise Movement. 

Con Ed cut power to areas in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island Sunday night after the weekend heat wave strained the energy company’s infrastructure. 

On Monday evening, a rain storm that hit the area at 8pm caused flash flooding. Streets in Brooklyn were impassable as water rose to people’s waists, leading at least one Uber driver, Walid Shawon, and his customer in Brooklyn’s South Slope neighborhood to flee the vehicle from a window and swim to safety.

“My car was floating in the water,”  Shawon told The New York Daily News. “We put it in neutral and it floated like a boat.”…—Eoin Higgins, “‘This is What the Climate Crisis Looks Like’: One Day After Crushing Heat Wave, Flash Floods Inundate New York City,” Common Dreams News, 7/23/19

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Forests, Greed & Risk
Deathwatch for the Amazon

Deathwatch for the Amazon

Brazil has the power to save Earth’s greatest forest—or destroy it

Although its cradle is the sparsely wooded savannah, humankind has long looked to forests for food, fuel, timber and sublime inspiration. Still a livelihood for 1.5bn people, forests maintain local and regional ecosystems and, for the other 6.2bn, provide a—fragile and creaking—buffer against climate change. Now droughts, wildfires and other human-induced changes are compounding the damage from chainsaws. In the tropics, which contain half of the world’s forest biomass, tree-cover loss has accelerated by two-thirds since 2015; if it were a country, the shrinkage would make the tropical rainforest the world’s third-biggest carbon-dioxide emitter, after China and America.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the Amazon basin—and not just because it contains 40% of Earth’s rain forests and harbours 10-15% of the world’s terrestrial species. South America’s natural wonder may be perilously close to the tipping-point beyond which its gradual transformation into something closer to steppe cannot be stopped or reversed, even if people lay down their axes. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is hastening the process—in the name, he claims, of development. The ecological collapse his policies may precipitate would be felt most acutely within his country’s borders, which encircle 80% of the basin—but would go far beyond them, too. It must be averted.

Further reading: Amazon Deforestation: Bolsonaro Government Accused of Seeking to Sow Doubt Over Data

Humans have been chipping away at the Amazon rainforest since they settled there well over ten millennia ago. Since the 1970s they have done so on an industrial scale. In the past 50 years Brazil has relinquished 17% of the forest’s original extent, more than the area of France, to road- and dam-building, logging, mining, soyabean farming and cattle ranching. After a seven-year government effort to slow the destruction, it picked up in 2013 because of weakened enforcement and an amnesty for past deforestation. Recession and political crisis further pared back the government’s ability to enforce the rules. Now Mr Bolsonaro has gleefully taken a buzz saw to them. Although congress and the courts have blocked some of his efforts to strip parts of the Amazon of their protected status, he has made it clear that rule-breakers have nothing to fear, despite the fact that he was elected to restore law and order. Because 70-80% of logging in the Amazon is illegal, the destruction has soared to record levels. Since he took office in January, trees have been disappearing at a rate of over two Manhattans a week.…—”Deathwatch for the Amazon – Rainforests,” The Economist, 8/1/19

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Indigenous tribes are the last best hope for the Amazon

Indigenous tribes are the last best hope for the Amazon

Indigenous people are engaged in a fierce battle to defend the Amazon forest from illegal logging and it’s working. Deforestation in indigenous territories is much lower than in other areas. But those efforts are now threatened.

“We’ve always lived in a war in Brazil,” says Sonia Guajajara, head of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil and a vice presidential candidate who helped organize the event. “The colonization period was marked by deaths, murders and extermination, and this hasn’t stopped. It requires our constant resistance.”

In the Caru Indigenous Territory, da Silva calls the regional office of the military police for backup. The guardians have discovered a possible marijuana plantation on their land.

“Confronting drug traffickers is the most dangerous kind of raid,” da Silva says.

The next day, eight heavily armed policemen arrive. It’s most likely a rare show of support, da Silva says, because an American journalist is along for the ride.

Further reading The Amazon used to be a hedge against climate change. Those days may be over.
For illegal loggers in the Brazilian Amazon, ‘there is no fear of being punished’
Brazil’s huge dam is built, but these women won’t stop fighting

We enter the forest up the river and head up a path with assault rifles and bulletproof vests, checking for trip wires and booby traps. Before long, we find a planted field, but it’s not pot. It’s cassava, planted by land-grabbers after they cleared the trees for charcoal.

The guardians cut and burn the cassava. The forest will take decades to recover.

“Sometimes, when we see the trees cut down, we feel rage,” da Silva says. “But we also have a heart, so sometimes we pity the outsiders, too. They wrecked what they had and now they want to wreck what we have. This is why we keep fighting, so that this doesn’t happen.”…—Sam Eaton, “‘Our wealth is the forest’: Indigenous tribes are the last best hope for the Amazon,” PRI|The Nation Magazine, 10/4/18

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Male Seahorse giving birth in the wild

Male H.Whitei seahorse giving birth off of Little Beach in Nelson Bay, NSW, Australia. Found by myself and Clayton Manning (http://www.projectseahorse.org/resear…) while doing seahorse surveys with Project Seahorse.—meagan abele, “White’s Seahorse giving birth in the wild- NSW Aus,” YouTube, 11/12/15

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Keeping the land:
indigenous communities’ struggle over land use
and sustainable forest management in Indonesia

Click for full size view

Note from The Banner’s Editors: Key points from a very important scholarly study on indigenous forest management in Indonesia

Sustainable and equitable natural resource management became one of the most important issues in Indonesia’s 1998 reform movement and in subsequent decentralization regulations. However, Indonesia’s deforestation rate has been accelerating since early 2000.  This article analyzes the impact of accelerated deforestation in Indonesia with a focus on two communities who have been able to preserve their forests.

“We focus on two communities that represent those who have been able to preserve their forests, and investigate how they responded to the two major challenges: commercial logging and the (further) development of industrial oil palm plantations. Our two research questions are descriptive and explanatory in nature: ‘How did the case study communities manage to preserve their forest in the face of logging and oil palm?’ and ‘Why did it happen that way?'”…

Further reading Indonesian president hands over management of forests to indigenous people
With forest rights, indigenous Indonesians stave off mining, palm oil
Indonesia’s last frontier: indigenous peoples’ rights key to forest preservation
Customary land map, a first for Indonesia, launches to mixed reception

Yuliani,de Jong, Knippenberg, Bakara, Sunderland, “Keeping the land: indigenous communities’ struggle over land use and sustainable forest management in Kalimantan, Indonesia,”  Center for International Forestry Research Center for International Forestry Research, 2018

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Greenland’s Melting:
Heat Waves Are Changing the Landscape Before Their Eyes

Greenland’s Melting: Heat Waves Are Changing the Landscape Before Their Eyes

The ice sheet is in the midst of one of its most extreme melts on record, with worrying consequences for Greenland’s people and the planet.

When the ice is gone—when there’s nothing left to melt—that’s when a new kind of worry sets in.

In years past, when it rained near Greenlander Toennes Berthelsen’s family camp, water would flood down as the mountain top ice melted, creating rivers where there usually are none.

Last week, when it rained there, there was no river at all.

“It was heavy raining, but we couldn’t see any flood coming down,” Berthelsen said. The ice cap at the top of the mountain was completely gone.

Click for full-size view

Greenland, home to the world’s second-largest ice sheet, has faced a summer of extreme heat. It saw exceptionally high temperatures in July—and that was before a new heat wave arrived this week and pushed temperatures above freezing even at the research station at the very top of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Now, the same heat dome that cooked Europe is forecast to raise temperatures in Greenland into the 70s Fahrenheit on parts of the coast, and the ice sheet is in the midst of one of its most extreme melts on record, said Xavier Fettweis, a climate researcher at the University of Liège. On July 30 and 31, more than half of the ice sheet had at least some melting at the surface, Denmark’s research institutions reported on Polar Portal.   

“The current melt rate is equivalent to what the model projects for 2070, using the most pessimistic model,” Fettweis said. That melting has global implications—if Greenland’s ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would result in about 20 feet of global sea level rise.…—Sabrina Shankman, “Greenland’s Melting: Heat Waves Are Changing the Landscape Before Their Eyes,” InsideClimate News, 8/1/19

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The Global Assault on Indigenous Peoples

The Global Assault on Indigenous Peoples

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”— Arundhati Roy

“We must answer their call. Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated, demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a dignified way, in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of the Earth and of its spirits.”— Berta Caceres, Indigenous rights and environmental activist of the Lenca people, murdered in Honduras in 2016

A few years ago when I was in Panama I was fortunate to spend some time with the indigenous Ngäbe–Buglé. They reside in the lush rainforest that blankets much of the country. Their villages are simple, but graciously laid out with the natural world around them. The people have a reverence for wildlife, using only what they need, and culture, ancestral ways and community are paramount. But as in every other place on the planet they have been under siege by the forces of capital.

Dam projects largely devised to benefit mining companies have inundated scores of villages and devastated farms and fishing. Rare species like the Tabasará rain frog are threatened with extinction due to the loss of habitat. Four years ago a dam claimed a small indigenous village on the sacred Tabasará River. The villagers narrowly escaped drowning as their homes flooded in the night. They were given no warning.

In May of last year the river was shut down for maintenance on the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. Tens of thousands of fish and crustaceans were left to suffocate in the mud. Many more dam projects are planned for this small country. While the Ngäbe–Buglé have protested their dispossession and the destruction to their way of life, they have been met with threats, disappearances and violence from the state and operatives from various companies who stand to benefit from the projects. But the lords of capital, the banks, hold the most power. For instance, FMO Bank of Holland and DEG Bank of Germany were responsible for the Barro Blanco dam.…—Kenn Orphan, “The Global Assault on Indigenous Peoples,” CounterPunch, 3/4/19

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‘We Have Fire Everywhere’:
Escaping California’s Deadliest Blaze

‘We Have Fire Everywhere’: Escaping California’s Deadliest Blaze

For eight hours last fall, Paradise, Calif., became a zone at the limits of the American imagination — and a preview of the American future.

The fire was already growing at a rate of one football field per second when Tamra Fisher woke up on the edge of Paradise, Calif., feeling that her life was no longer insurmountably strenuous or unpleasant and that she might be up to the challenge of living it again.

She was 49 and had spent almost all of those years on the Ridge — the sweeping incline, in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada, on which Paradise and several tinier, unincorporated communities sit. Fisher moved to the Ridge as a child, married at 16, then raised four children of her own, working 70-hour-plus weeks caring for disabled adults and the elderly. Paradise had attracted working-class retirees from around California since the 1970s and was beginning to draw in younger families for the same reasons. The town was quiet and affordable, free of the big-box stores and traffic that addled the city of Chico in the valley below. It still brimmed with the towering pine trees that first made the community viable more than a century ago. The initial settlement was poor and minuscule — “Poverty Ridge,” some called it — until a new logging railroad was built through the town in 1904 by a company felling timber farther uphill. This was the Diamond Match Company. The trees of Paradise made for perfect matchsticks.

Like many people who grow up in small communities, Fisher regarded her hometown with affection but also exhaustion. All her life, she dreamed of leaving and seeing other parts of the world, not to escape Paradise but so that she could return with renewed appreciation for it. But as the years wore on, she worried that she’d missed her chance. There had been too many tribulations and not enough money. She was trapped.

Then again, who knew? That fall, Fisher was suspended in a wide-open and recuperative limbo, having finally ended a five-year relationship with a man who, she said, conned her financially, isolated her from her family and seized on her diagnoses of depression and a mood disorder to make her feel crazy and sick and insist that she go on disability. “What I thought was love,” she said, “was me trying to buy love and him stealing from me.” But now, a fuller, bigger life seemed possible. She’d tried community college for a semester. And just recently, she got together with Andy, a big-hearted baker for the Chico public-school system, who slipped out of her bed earlier that Thursday morning to drive down the hill to work. Fisher was feeling grounded again: happy. It was odd to say the word, but it must have been true because there she was, getting out of bed at 8 a.m. — early for her — energetically and without resentment, to take her two miniature schnauzers and Andy’s lumbering old mutt into the yard to pee.

Further reading Missing woman turns up 238 days after deadly Camp Fire sparked
Giant sinkholes appear as wildfires rage near Siberia
Russia’s army called in as Siberia wildfires engulf area nearly as big as Belgium
Massive Siberia wildfires pose potential threat to climate worldwide
How a devastating forest fire revealed a tree as close to fireproof as a tree can get

 

Global Wildfire Interactive Map (Click to load map/select “eye” tool indicated by cursor to reveal/hide interactive layers. View currently set for August 1-2 reports)

She stepped out in her slippers and the oversize sweatshirt she slept in. She smelled smoke. The sky overhead was still faintly blue in spots, but a brown fog, forced in by a hard wind, was rapidly smothering it. “I’ve been here so long, it didn’t even faze me,” Fisher said. Small wildfires erupted in the canyons on either side of Paradise every year. But then the wind gusted sharply and a three-inch piece of burned bark floated lazily toward her through the air like a demonic moth. Fisher opened her hand and caught it. Bits of it crumbled in her palm like charcoal. She took a picture and texted it to her sister Cindy Christensen. “WTF is happening,” she wrote.

Cindy knew about wildfires. In fact, she’d spent every summer and fall fixated on fire since the “fire siege” of 2008, when Paradise was threatened by two blazes, one in each of the canyons alongside it. One morning, as the Humboldt Fire approached from the east, the town ordered more than 9,000 people to evacuate as a precaution, Cindy among them. But when Cindy pulled out of her neighborhood, she instantly hit gridlock. An investigation determined that it took nearly three hours for most residents to drive the 11 miles downhill.

Sitting in traffic that morning, Cindy felt viscerally unsafe. Ever since then, she obsessively tracked the daily indicators of high-fire danger on the TV weather reports and with apps on her phone. “It consumed me,” Cindy said. She spent many nights, unable to sleep, listening to the wind plow out of the canyon and batter her roof. Many days, she refused to leave home, worried a fire might blow through her neighborhood before she could return for her pets. She didn’t just sign up to get the county’s emergency alerts on her phone; she bought her own police scanner.

It pained Tamra to see her sister fall apart every fire season; Cindy seemed irrational — possessed. It was hard to take her seriously. “That’s just Cindy,” Tamra would say. Now, standing with her phone in one hand and the charred bark in the other, Tamra needed Cindy to be Cindy and tell her what to do.

“Evacuate,” Cindy wrote back.

“Answer me!!” Tamra texted again. “It’s raining ash and bark.” Neither realized that some texts weren’t being received by the other. Then the power went out, and Tamra, who had dropped her cellular plan to save money and could only use her phone with Wi-Fi, was cut off from communicating with anyone.

“Leave, T. Paradise is on fire,” Cindy was texting her. “Leave!!”…—Jon Mooallem, “‘We Have Fire Everywhere’: Escaping California’s Deadliest Blaze,” The New York Times, 7/31/19

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€˜We have survived:
Aboriginal leaders urge Australians to reflect
and come together

‘We have survived’: Aboriginal leaders urge Australians to reflect and come together – video

‘It is right to stop, reflect and declare the atrocities that have taken place on this land,’ said Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon at the WugulOra morning ceremony at Barangaroo in Sydney on Saturday. ‘Not out of a guilt but to listen, learn, share and to come together.’ Weldon, the chair of the Local Aboriginal Land Council, delivered the welcome to country as part of Australia Day celebrations in Sydney. Rayma Johnson, a dancer with the Bunja Bunja Butterfly dance group, said the day brought ‘mixed emotions’.  ‘I think about those who have gone,’ she said of her family members that have died, ‘but then I reflect on the hope for the future.’—Becca Leaver, “‘We have survived’: Aboriginal leaders urge Australians to reflect and come together,” The Guardian, 1/25/19

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Scientists discovered a mushroom that eats plastic,
and believe it could clean our landfills.

Scientists discovered a mushroom that eats plastic, and believe it could clean our landfills.

Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time. And while a plastic straw ban is not the way we’re going to solve it — here’s why – people everywhere are looking for ways to reduce plastic use and mitigate the effects of waste.

From handing out plastic bags with embarrassing labels to removing the plastic from six-packs to harnessing the power of a plastic-eating mutant (bacteria), more and more of us are working to find solutions to a growing global program.

Add one more strange and awesome plastic-killing discover to the list: A rare mushroom that feasts on plastic the same way you or I would when we go to that $5 buffet at Cici’s. (I have been only once and I’m still thinking about it, even though just the thoughts are bad for my blood pressure.)

Further reading 10 Plastic Eating Organisms
How plastic-eating bacteria actually work – a chemist explains

According to reports, the mushroom’s plastic-devouring properties were first discovered in 2011, when a team of Yale undergraduates and their professor traveled to Ecuador for a research trip. They found the mushroom — Pestalotiopsis microspora — in the amazon and were astounded to find that the fungus not only subsists on polyurethane (it’s the first plant to sustain itself only on plastic), but could do so without oxygen.

That means it could be planted at the bottom of landfills and happily eat its fill of plastic for eons to come!…—Mark Shrayber, “Scientists discovered a mushroom that eats plastic, and believe it could clean our landfills.Upworthy, 6/14/19

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The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe

The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe

Many people were thrilled when they heard that the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics this year went to William Nordhaus of Yale University, a man known for his work on climate change. Finally, the economics profession is giving climate the attention it deserves, just as the world is waking up to the severity of our ecological emergency. Media outlets have taken this positive narrative and run with it.

From the perspective of capital, what most of us see as tremendous ethical and even existential problems literally don’t count.

But while Nordhaus may be revered among economists, climate scientists and ecologists have a very different opinion of his legacy. In fact, many believe that the failure of the world’s governments to pursue aggressive climate action over the past few decades is in large part due to arguments that Nordhaus has advanced.

It’s a blazing controversy that hinges on the single most consequential issue in climate economics: the question of growth. The stakes couldn’t be higher. After all, this isn’t just a matter of abstract academic debate; the future of human civilization hangs in the balance.

In the 1990s, Nordhaus invented the first integrated assessment models to explore how economic growth affects carbon emissions, and how climate change in turn affects economic growth. The basic mechanisms that Nordhaus described continue to inform the models that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses today. No one disputes that this qualifies as a significant contribution to the field. The question, rather, has to do with how Nordhaus has used his models to argue for a particular policy agenda.

The models showed that if we were to rapidly reduce carbon emissions in line with what scientists say is necessary to avoid climate breakdown — by putting a high tax on carbon, for instance — it would significantly slow down the rate of economic growth. As far as scientists are concerned, that’s not a problem; we should obviously do whatever it takes to avoid climate catastrophe. But for economists like Nordhaus, this is not acceptable. After all, the whole point of neoclassical economics is to do whatever it takes to grow economic output.

The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn’t appear to bother us.—The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth – Pacific Standard

So, Nordhaus’ career has been devoted to finding what he calls a “balance” between climate mitigation and GDP growth. In a famous 1991 paper titled “To slow or not to slow,” he argued firmly for the latter option: Let’s not be too eager to slow down global warming, because we don’t want to jeopardize growth.

To justify this conclusion, Nordhaus manipulates what is known as the “discount rate,” which is how economists value the costs of climate breakdown in the present as compared to the future. It might sound arcane, but it’s really quite straightforward. A discount rate of zero means that future generations are valued equally to the present; a high discount rate means that future generations are valued less, or “discounted,” compared with nearer generations.[Emphasis added—Editor]

Nordhaus prefers a high discount rate — very high.…—Jason Hickel, “The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe,” Medium, 12/10/18

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Big Oil is the real foreign meddler in Canadian affairs

Big Oil is the real foreign meddler in Canadian affairs | The Star

With the exception of Donald Trump’s claim that he’s draining the swamp, it’s hard to imagine a clearer example of gibberish than Jason Kenney’s claim that he’s defending Alberta against “foreign-funded special interests.”

The Alberta Premier has launched a public inquiry to expose the foreign funding behind environmental groups opposing his efforts to increase production of Alberta’s carbon-heavy oil.

But Kenney’s claim to be shielding Albertans from foreign “special interests” is absurdly selective; he’s planning to shine the light on a small slice of foreign influence, while keeping the spotlight away from the massive foreign influence exerted by the oil and gas industry.

Further reading Trudeau seeks to highlight climate policy in visit to Canada’s Far North
‘Sinister seniors’ ready to face more jail time to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline

If there’s ever been a foreign player wielding influence in Canada, it’s been Big Oil, which has exercised a virtual stranglehold over Alberta politics during the last few decades. But that story — and Kenney’s complicity in it — is one the Premier is determined to keep under wraps.

“Big Oil was the original special interest meddling in Canadian affairs,” says Donald Gutstein, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and author of The Big Stall: How Big Oil and the Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change. “From the very beginning, Canada’s oil and the tar sands were an American affair, financed by American capital to provide petroleum for the American market. Canadians and the environment be damned. Now Canadians, environmentalists and First Nations are saying ‘enough.’”…—Linda McQuaig, “Big Oil is the real foreign meddler in Canadian affairs,” The Star, 7/31/19

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Logging, mining companies lock eyes
on a biodiverse island like no other

Logging, mining companies lock eyes on a biodiverse island like no other

  • Woodlark Island sits far off the coast of Papua New Guinea and is swathed in old growth forests home to animals found nowhere else on the planet. However, the island and its unique inhabitants have an uncertain future. Lured by high-value timber, a logging company is planning to clear 40 percent of Woodlark’s forests. Researchers say this could drive many species to extinction.
  • The company says logging will be followed by the planting of tree and cocoa plantations, and it has submitted to the government a permit application to clear forests as an agricultural development project. However, an independent investigation found this application process “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information” and that the company did not properly obtain the consent of landowners who have lived on the island for generations.
  • It is unclear if the application has been approved, but there are signs that the company may be moving forward with its plans.
  • Meanwhile, a mining company is pushing forward with its own plans to develop an open-pit gold mine on the island. The mine is expected to result in increased road construction and discharge nearly 13 metric tons of mining waste into a nearby bay.

A unique island ecosystem and culture lying 270 kilometers (170 miles) off Papua New Guinea is once more in the crosshairs. Over the past decade, Woodlark Islanders have defended their forests — home to dozens of endemic species found nowhere else on Earth — from a slew of threats from loggers, miners and plantation developers. Their latest challenge comes from a foreign-owned company, Kulawood Limited, which has applied for a permit to log and clear 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) of land. If carried out, this will lead to the destruction of some 40 percent of the island’s forest.

The company says the logging will be followed by the planting of trees and rubber and cocoa plantations, and that it is part of a wider integrated agriculture and forest plantation project. Yet an in-depth, four-part series published by investigative outlet PNGi casts doubt on this claim. It throws into question whether the promise of agricultural development is being dangled over Woodlark as a ploy for green-lighting industrial logging. It also reveals how the application process through which Kulawood has sought approval for large-scale forest conversion is “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information.”

David Mitchell, director of Eco Custodian Advocates, a community-focused conservation charity in Papua New Guinea (PNG), has worked for many years in the region and says he believes logging is an immediate threat to the island.…—Gianluca Cerullo, “Logging, mining companies lock eyes on a biodiverse island like no other,” Mongabay, 7/31/19

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A ‘big win’ in Montanore mining lawsuit

Enviro groups tout ‘big win’ in Montanore mining lawsuit

Montana illegally re-issued a water pollution discharge permit in 2004 for the proposed Montanore copper and silver mine under the Cabinet Mountains, according to a legal ruling that environmental groups

In her July 24, 2019 ruling, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley wrote that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) re-issuance of the discharge permit to Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiary Montanore Minerals Corp. was based in part “on arbitrary and capricious decisions,” and violates the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act. She vacated the permit, and remanded the matter to DEQ for further action consistent with her decision.

Further reading: Court Ruling Order on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment19-07-24

“This is a big win for clean water,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director for Earthworks, which is one of the groups that sued DEQ and Montana over the permit. “One of the bigger outcomes of the decision is that the court affirmed that the mine couldn’t rely on a 27-year-old permit that would allow unnecessary pollution of Libby Creek rather than complying with today’s laws to better protect Montana’s streams.”

The Montanore Project involves tunneling for copper and silver in the mountains between Libby and the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area. The ore body sought lies under the wilderness area, while all of the above-ground work that has been done is outside of the boundary.…

“This ruling protects clean water on public lands that belong to all of us,” Earthjustice Attorney Katherine O’Brien said in a press release. “The decision from the court also sends a strong message that our state environmental agency cannot cut corners when it comes to permitting industrial pollution in our streams.”…—Eve Byron, “Enviro groups tout ‘big win’ in Montanore mining lawsuit,” The Missoulian, 7/29/19

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Microalgae System Turns Pollution
Into Oxygen Equivalent To More Than 300 Trees

Microalgae System Turns Pollution Into Oxygen Equivalent To More Than 300 Trees

This manmade tree does the work of over 300 real ones! The Mexican system uses microalgae to turn pollution into oxygen. It may be coming to the UK soon!

BiomiTech beat out six other finalists in the innovation category with its BioUrban 2.0 system at the Contamination Expo Series 2018 held in Birmingham, England. This Mexican company’s air purification system uses micro-algae to transform contaminants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into oxygen.

The company is proud to say that the technology used in the system is 100% Mexican. BiomiTech founding partner Jaime Ferrer told the newspaper Milenio:

“A single BioUrban [system] is capable of carrying out the photosynthesis process and returning oxygen equivalent to [that released annually by] more than 300 trees. But we’re not replacing them. At crossroads, in urban infrastructure where contamination is found, roads where cars drive on a daily basis, at intersections where buses stop… These are places where we can’t plant 300 trees but we can complete the same function through a natural biological process.”

The structure of BiomiTech’s purification system is four meters high with steel casing. Its apex has a three-meter diameter and contains 500 liters of micro-algae, enough to filter up to 99.7% of the particles it captures. The overall design is in the form of a tree.

Not only that, but there are additional bonus features built into the device for user convenience. The system is equipped with a sensor to monitor air quality as well as wireless internet capability to transmit the data it collects. Furthermore, waste micro-algae can even be used as a raw material for products such as biogas and bio-fuels.…—Andrea D. Steffen, “Microalgae System Turns Pollution Into Oxygen Equivalent To More Than 300 Trees,” Intelligent Living, 5/11/19

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And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to everyone who sent in news, action announcements and comments this week. Send kudos, rotten tomatoes and your story ideas, your group’s action events, and news of interest to intrepid climate change and environmental justice warriors! Send to editor@thebanner.news.