Big day for the environment
reports on a number of environmental justice protests that took place in late July as protesters turned out to stop fracking and other destructive practices.
THE POPULAR struggle for environmental justice around the world has seen a much-needed upsurge this year.
In reviewing 2012, we will certainly be taking note of July 28. On this day, five separate, dramatic and inspiring actions for environmental justice occurred. Each was an exciting development by itself, but together, they made that day's news some of the best all year.
In Washington, D.C., more than 5,000 people from all over the nation and world gathered at the Stop the Frack Attack rally and march. Many well-known activists in the campaign against fracking spoke at the rally, including Bill McKibben; producer of Gasland and The Sky is Pink, Josh Fox; president of the Sierra Club, Allison Chin; and former mayor of DISH, Texas, Calvin Tillman.
The rally highlighted three key demands, emphasizing the coming election season: to stop fracking altogether, to enforce laws designed to protect communities from exploitative corporations, and to close loopholes in the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts that currently allow oil and gas companies to withhold information about what they release into the environment.
The march included members of 136 organizations from at least 30 states, all of whom had their own story to share.
Protesters from Dimock, Pa., recalled what happened to their town. Over the course of a week in 2009, more than 10,000 gallons of Halliburton-produced fracking fluid was spilled or let flow into local creeks. They quoted a Penn State petroleum engineer as saying the community was a "necessary sacrifice." The same community brought with them several gallons of contaminated well water, all of it dated, none of it safe to drink.
A family from West Virginia told the story of their son, who was killed on a frack site in New York because he had not received proper training from his employer. They aptly described his death as "a life lost in the rush to drill."
Signs were just as varied, from the simple, "Don't Frack" and "Clean Energy Now," to the accusative, "Fracking Is Criminal" and "Safe Fracking Is a Fairy Tale," the militant, "I Pledge Resistance." The Stop the Frack Attack rally in D.C. was called the "first ever national action on fracking."
The good news is that the event is only the first of many more actions planned for the near future. Organizers hope to bring similar marches to the governors and capitol buildings of every state under attack from fracking.
In New York, more than 1,000 businesses have signed on in support of a fracking ban, and the entire state is currently subject to a fracking moratorium. The list, organized by New Yorkers Against Fracking, is to be sent to the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with a list of even more individual signatures.
Like Texas, much of New York lies atop a huge shale formation, the Marcellus Shale, where natural gas fracking threatens the integrity of thousands of communities, the property rights of thousands more, and the drinking water of millions of people.
While it is not a particularly admirable stance these businesses-owners are taking--they make it clear that they're opposed to fracking only because it threatens their own small business and their own right to profit from exploitation by other means--the criticisms they level at the fracking industry are pointed and useful.
The businesses against fracking point out not only the obvious--that fracking threatens people and their environment--but that claims about economic benefits are deceptive. They cite reports from the states of Louisiana and Pennsylvania showing that while industry mouthpieces promised that shale gas extraction would produce jobs and an economic boom, after the gas was gone--and the industry had scarred the land, subjected local residents to earthquakes, polluted their drinking water, poisoned their children and bought out their city governments--the frackers had destroyed twice as many local jobs as it had created.
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ALSO ON July 28, in West Virginia, 50 activists associated with the Mountain Mobilization campaign marched onto Hobet Mine, the largest strip mine in Appalachia, to demand an end to mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal is a method of destroying an entire section of a mountain in order to pick out the coal from the remains. The incredible amount of mechanized mining and explosives releases tons of toxic coal dust into the air, and much of the debris gets dumped into valleys and streams.
For local residents, the result is high rates of lung cancer, black lung disease, heart and kidney problems, birth defects and little access to clean air or water. That's not to mention coal miners themselves, who bear the brunt of these calamities, and whose ranks have been thinned by 60 percent since 1979--even as they've mined 2.5 times as much coal.
The activists at Hobet Mine chained themselves to mining equipment and trucks, staged tree-sits and dropped banners in protest of President Barack Obama's failure, like all of his predecessors, to implement and enforce health and safety regulations. The company that operates the mine, Patriot Coal, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month--a move that means the company is unlikely to be held responsible for upholding union contracts and pension plans for its miners, much less the task of cleaning up its mess.
One of the activists, the son and grandson of West Virginia union miners, stated, "The government has aided and abetted the coal industry in evading environmental and mine safety regulations. We are here today to demand that the government and coal industry end strip mining, repay their debt to Appalachia and secure a just transition for this region."
Another local former employee of a coal company summed up the situation well: "[T]he coal companies are poisoning our water and air, and they're treating the workers no better than the land--fighting workplace health and safety protections to get the most out of labor as they can."
Meanwhile, in Burlington, Vt., as many as 600 protestors organized a "Convergence on the Conference" outside the hotel where New England governors and eastern Canadian provincial premiers were meeting to discuss common issues in the region. The people who gathered made the issues clear, chanting at one point, "The water! The water! The water's on fire! We don't need no fracking--let the corporations burn!"
A few hundred protesters wore all black and staged a "human oil spill" in a nearby park, silently splaying themselves out in protest of the proposed pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Western Canada through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
A spokesperson for the convergence called out those participating in the meeting, saying, "They're definitely prioritizing profits and money-making over the needs of the people or the impact these proposals will have on us, the people who live on the land and are affected by the decisions."
The event later turned violent after protesters organized to block buses carrying conference attendees to dinner. According to protesters, police forced the crowd into the street and then began firing exploding pepper balls at them, at point-blank range in some cases.
Police claimed self-defense after the incident, saying protesters had dragged one officer into the crowd. Eyewitnesses, however, say the officer tripped on a banner. At least one person recording the protest had a gun pointed at him and his camera during the violence.
TransCanada's tar sands pipelines will also affect people as distant as East Texas, where activists gathered for the Texas Keystone Convergence, organized to provide participants in the upcoming Tar Sands Blockade resources and education for defending against capitalism's ecological terrorism.
Environmental activists from across Texas and neighboring states united to train and count their numbers in preparation for a blockade against the tar sands pipeline--which has been called "game over for the environment" and just received approval last week from the State of Texas.
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IN TEXAS and in Vermont, the culprit is the same corporation. But the destruction, far and wide, is universally the result of the same capitalist system. It is the system that necessitates collaboration between corporations and governments to guarantee profits for the few at the expense of everyone else.
In our profit-motivated society, the people who are rewarded the most are the people most able to squeeze money out of everything they see. The necessity of profit drives capitalists to commit atrocities otherwise unthinkable.
Within a system that rewards only immediate profit, human activity inevitably results in environmental destruction. But it is important to note that it is that system, that capitalist system, which mandates the injustice. It is not our mere existence that threatens our planet--it's the drive by capitalism to constantly harvest and destroy that has brought us to this crisis of existence.
Ideally, humans would live in a society supported by the technology that allows us to utilize solar and wind power to produce energy, without an alienating, wasteful and destructive reliance on gas-burning automobiles, and to provide safe, clean drinking water anywhere its needed while abolishing plastic bottles.
Real research, real science and real facts show that the global population can live on this planet without destroying it. But we cannot achieve that way of living if we do not move beyond capitalism.
We know not only that capitalism is the culprit in environmental injustice, also what it takes to secure real, lasting justice for our planet. The masses of people who are forced to make the capitalist system work have the collective power to stop not only that system, but the environmental destruction that comes with it.