DAPL standoff is textbook little guy vs. big business/big government

dapl-standoff

On one front, militarized police in riot gear; on the other, protesters with drums.

While the news cycle remains fixated on Washington politics, the biggest story in America is unfolding in a remote region of North Dakota. In the small town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation, activists are defending sacred burial ground and their community’s water supply against construction of a major oil pipeline. Militarized police and private security forces are there to ensure the project is completed, arresting reporters and assaulting protesters.

In America’s hotly divided political and social climate, it’s rare to find a conflict in which one party is so clearly right and the other so clearly wrong. Continue reading

Resurrect the concept of the commons

International_Flag_of_Planet_Earth.svg

Swedish artist Oskar Perenfeldt proposed this flag as the International Flag of Planet Earth to remind humanity how we are all interconnected.

Dedicated capitalists may find the idea of natural resources belonging to all people and not corporations radical, but it’s nothing new. In 1217 King Henry III sealed the Charter of the Forest, a companion piece to the Magna Carta which recognized the importance of the woods to the livelihood of Englishmen. The Charter is seen as establishing a concept of the commons: Resources such as air, water, plants, game and land should be freely accessible to barons and peasants alike, rather than paying the crown for access.

Indigenous populations throughout the millennia have often had even more forceful versions of this philosophy. In 2011 Bolivia, a nation with one of the most politically active indigenous populations on the planet, passed the Law of Mother Earth. This law took the Charter of the Forest a few steps further, protecting nature from being “affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”

Assigning sacred value to the commons is the kind of wisdom that should be informing US policy making today. Continue reading

Criminal charges should be brought to Volkswagen

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars' gross emissions violations.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars’ gross emissions violations.

Another major corporation has been caught in an environmental scandal, and again the news media is as sympathetic as possible. Last week, the EPA confronted German automaker Volkswagen about allegations that certain of their diesel-engine vehicles violated Clean Air Act standards. The response from Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn was the kind of “Aw, shucks” apology we’ve become accustomed to from the powerful: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

But Winterkorn did far more than violate trust. According to the LA Times, Volkswagen has sold nearly half a million affected cars in the U.S. since 2009 and 11 million worldwide. These cars, which were heavily marketed as burning “clean diesel,” were emitting up to 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Software in the car’s computer – apparently common enough in the industry that it has a nickname, a “defeat device” – tricks inspectors by switching over to a special mode at inspection time. That excess nitrogen oxide combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide and smog. Continue reading

National Geographic’s future editorial integrity is in doubt over Murdoch merger

A 100-year-old National Geographic from January 1915.

A 100-year-old National Geographic from January 1915.

Rupert Murdoch, the Australian mogul who owns a vast media empire encompassing, among other important holdings, 21st Century Fox and FOX News, has purchased a 73 percent share of the National Geographic Society’s media assets for $725 million. The society will join with Murdoch in running National Geographic Partners, which will henceforth produce commercial National Geographic media.

Most notably, this includes the society’s revered National Geographic Magazine, published since 1888. And while the society will supposedly continue to play a predominant role in generating the magazine’s content, there is worry that its new, profit-oriented owner will compromise its strong editorial stance, particularly given Murdoch’s denial of man-made climate change. Continue reading

Special New Year’s edition: Three 2015 resolutions for America

Say what you will about America, there’s one thing that’s undeniably true: people don’t like you to say what you will about America. Despite being the most powerful economic and military force on the globe for the last 100 years, our culture is quick to take offense at even the mildest of criticisms. Self-reflection has never been our greatest strength, making a list like this controversial.

Nonetheless, we face several crises together. Most commentators don’t consider 2014 to have been a “good news” year. Whether we realize it or want to admit it, this country’s business and political classes have committed inhuman crimes in our name, and they will continue to do so for as long as we let them. If, instead, Americans pledged to confront these issues openly and honestly, we could pave the way to a much brighter future. These are the issues activists, organizers, and opinion leaders should be hammering home in 2015. Continue reading

GOP backlash to Denton fracking ban reveals a dark hypocrisy

Amid last week’s Republican sweep of the 2014 midterm elections, there were some notable progressive victories. Marijuana decriminalization, gun control laws and minimum wage increases all passed on various states’ ballots. But perhaps the most inspiring initiative voters put into law was a ban on fracking in Denton, Texas. Unfortunately, Texas politicians, bureaucrats and business interests are pledging to fight, repeal and/or ignore it. Continue reading

Why the “jobs” argument against climate action makes no sense

In September, hundreds of thousands of climate activists marched on Manhattan to bring attention to – and demand action from leaders on – environmental degradation and climate change. By now, just about everyone recognizes these as civilization-threatening problems requiring our attention. Even the Republican position on the issue is slowly evolving. As the overwhelming evidence implicating human activity mounts and the disastrous consequences of climate change are being experienced firsthand around the world, the question is finally turning from, “Is it happening?” to, “What are we going to do about it?”

Yet there are still plenty of holdouts in the political and business sectors who are stalling environmental progress. One of their favorite canards, and probably the single-silliest argument that can be made against environmental action, is that it will cost America jobs. Continue reading

Toledo algae bloom forces a reset of priorities; challenges definition of “safe”

Last week, the nearly half-million residents of Toledo, Ohio were given a grim warning: “Don’t drink the water.” Due to an enormous toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie, dangerous levels of the poisonous bacterial product microcystin entered Toledo’s water supply, prompting Governor John Kasich to declare a state of emergency.

I don’t mind telling you I’m from that area. I live in Texas now, but regularly entertain thoughts of moving home, partly because of the water. The Great Lakes region – the world’s most plentiful freshwater source – may one day be a mecca amid widespread desertification. But if the water is poisoned, it’ll hardly remain attractive for long. Continue reading