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Activism and the Nexus: Shaping Policy

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Activism & the Nexus: Shaping Policy

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Activism is a force to be reckoned with. This simple truth is one easy to forget in the grim utilitarian realm of policy analysis. It’s a factor that depending upon your given governance structure is easy to shove off to the side as secondary. When the problems seem so big, when you’re working at a global system change the contributions of active engaged individuals can seem so small to be insignificant.

You might find yourself starting to ask brutal questions. What voice does the little guy have when the big players have such loud lobbyists? Given their diffuse and often ephemeral nature what influence can grassroots movements really have on decision makers?-So easy to do, and so damning.

Lucky for me I’ve got you folks in the Peak Water network and friends around the world constantly reminding me of this. People power can wield enormous influence, regardless of the particular creed it amplifies. In the pursuit of a truly sustainable global energy-water- climate system transition it’s these movements that give moral purpose and a groundswell of democratic legitimacy. They animate  people, engaging them in the complexities of the problem while helping them grow into change agents.

Right now across the United States there is a movement to divest public institutions from fossil fuels. In this column I’m going to highlight the efforts of the folks in the University of California pushing for such change.

As of 20 February 2013 the University of California, San Diego student government joined their fellows at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses in passing a resolution to fully divest its portfolio from fossil fuel funds. Equal parts inspired by the call to action and the success of the anti-Apartheid divestments of the 80s and 90s the movement is as much about a moral revolution as climate change mitigation. The college campaign in California has largely been coordinated by the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) which coordinates environmental actions by students across the state.

At Berkeley the charge is being led by senior Katie Hoffman, her tireless efforts leading the team at Cal through their unsuccessful campaign in 2011 to divest the UC from coal companies all the way through to the current momentum of the day. That is, of UC Berkeley’s student government setting a vital new precedent by voting to divest. Katie is an old friend; we first met as transfer students to the Society & Environment B.S. programme at UC Berkeley a few years back.

I’ve watched her work, witnessed her passion and drive first hand. I have seen what she and all the other activists in the CSSC have accomplished.  I can see what they’re capable of. Expect more big things to come! To have been there at the start and to be here now is an incredible privelege, even from across the Atlantic. Katie and all the other folks on the ground across California and the whole United States pushing forward with divestment are a true and continued inspiration.

Some would scoff at the arrogant naivety of students, denying them even the pleasure of small victories. Such folks need only look at the million dollar funds at the disposal of UC student governments to see how wrong they are. This is a targeted movement, with specific and modular goals. Across the country they’re succeeding and their campaigns are growing.

All of this has profound implications for not only how we concieve of each and every sutainability nexus but the pathways we choose to realize them.  To bear witness to, even join, movements such as these opens your eyes to the possibility of a democratised and decentralised (both of technologies and governance) transition. That is, of a radical departure from the status quo and viable in a multitude of different manifestations. Yes, activism is but one complex piece but  what a vital part yet!  

The choice we face is not simply between different technical and economic structures, so too is it a resolution on how we are to conduct ourselves-a new order to things. It’s about governance, and strategic decision making. Grassroots organizing, direct action, advocacy and all the other forms must orient towards this truth. From the ground up and back down again how we choose must be reshaped. In radical, chaotic little steps we may yet solve the riddle of the sustainability nexus.

Activism is about policy, an imperfect and fragile evolution.

~ Miles on Water

Why First Nations Movement Is Our Best Chance for Clean Land and Water

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“Before the passage of Bill C-45, 2.6 million rivers, lakes, and a good portion of Canada’s three ocean shorelines were protected under the Navigable Waters Act. Now, only eighty-seven are protected. That’s just the beginning of the problem, which seems not to have drawn much attention from the general public.

“Flash mob” protests with traditional dancing and drumming have erupted in dozens of shopping malls across North America, marches and highway blockades by aboriginal groups and supporters have emerged across Canada and as far away as New Zealand and the Middle East. This weekend, hundreds of native people and their supporters held a flash mob round dance, with hand drums and singing, at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, again as a part of the Idle No More protest movement. This quickly emerging wave of native activism on environmental and human rights issues has spread like a wildfire across the continent.

Prime Minister Harper’s push for tar sands and mining

A group of natives from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario, pitched a pickup truck across the tracks of a Canadian National Railway spur and blocked train traffic Friday in support of the Idle No More protest in Ottawa. The blockade began just after Boxing Day, that famed Canadian holiday, and has continued.”

Read more: Yes Magazine


Defense and Security Companies Are Planning to Cash in on Climate Change and Environmental Collapse

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“It is not just the coercive industries that are positioning themselves to profit from fears about the future. The commodities upon which life depends are being woven into new security narratives based on fears about scarcity, overpopulation and inequality. Increasing importance is attached to ‘food security’, ‘energy security’, ‘water security’ and so on, with little analysis of exactly what is being secured for whom, and at whose expense? But when perceived food insecurity in South Korea and Saudi Arabia is fuelling land grabs and exploitation in Africa, and rising food prices are causing widespread social unrest, alarm bells should be ringing.

The climate security discourse takes these outcomes for granted. It is predicated on winners and losers – the secure and the damned – and based on a vision of ‘security’ so warped by the ‘war on terror’ that it essentially envisages disposable people in place of the international solidarity so obviously required to face the future in a just and collaborative way.

To confront this ever creeping securitisation of our future, we must of course continue to fight to end our fossil fuel addiction as urgently as possible, joining movements like those fighting tar sands developments in North America and forming broad civic alliances that pressure towns, states and governments to transition their economies to a low-carbon footing. We can not stop climate change – it is already happening – but we can still prevent the worst effects.”

Read more: Alternet

Beyond Big Dams: Turning to Grass Roots Solutions on Water

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“Cheap pumps and new ways of powering them are transforming farming and boosting income all over Africa and Asia,” says Meredith Giordano, lead author of a three-year research project looking at how smallholder farmers are turning their backs on governments and finding their own solutions to water problems.

“We were amazed at the scale of what is going on,” Giordano says. Indian farmers have an estimated 20 million pumps at work watering their fields. As many as 200 million Africans benefit from the crops they water. And in addition to pumps, she notes, “simple tools for drilling wells and capturing rainwater have enabled many farmers to produce more crops in the dry season, hugely boosting their incomes.”

Read more: Yale Environment 360

Canada Threatens Trade War With EU Over Tar Sands

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Canada has threatened a trade war with European Union over the bloc’s plan to label oil from Alberta’s vast tar sands as highly polluting, the Guardian can reveal, before a key vote in Brussels on 23 February.

“Canada will not hesitate to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organisation,” state letters sent to European commissioners by Canada’s ambassador to the EU and its oil minister, released under freedom of information laws.

The move is a significant escalation of the row over the EU’s plans, which Canada fears would set a global precedent and derail its ability to exploit its tar sands, which are the biggest fossil fuel reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. Environmental groups argue that exploitation of the tar sands, also called oil sands, is catastrophic for the global climate, as well as causing serious air and water pollution in Alberta.”

Read more: Guardian


Alberta Oil Sands Up Close: Gunshot Sounds, Dead Birds, a Moonscape

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“It’s literally a toxic wasteland—bare ground and black ponds and lakes—tailings ponds—with an awful smell,” said Warner Nazile, who with Freda Huston spoke to university students in Denver recently about the tar sands and its related pipelines. Both are activists from British Columbia and members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

They are two of the legions of First Nations citizens fighting against a pipeline that’s just as controversial in Canada as Keystone XL is in the United States: Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, a 36-inch, nearly $6 billion pipeline that would carry 525,000 barrels per day of crude from the oil sands 730 miles across and beneath lakes, streams and mountains to Kitimat on the British Columbia coast for shipment to Asia, particularly China. Hearings are currently under way in Edmonton, Alberta, before a review panel.

In a January 28 interview both Nazile and Huston talked about the pipeline’s current review in an environmental assessment and analysis by a joint review panel. Their conclusion is that, despite its despoiling an area roughly the size of England, the Northern Gateway means billions in revenue to the Canadian government, which has given the project full support.

Read more: Indian Country


Water pollution traced to La Brea Tar Pits

Palm trees are reflected on the oil-slicked surface at the La Brea Tar Pits. Now that polluted water in Ballona Creek has been traced to the popular tourist attraction, the county will spend $2 million on a remedy. (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los Angeles Times)

“For years, residents living near Ballona Creek and environmentalists have complained of mysterious sheens of oil and grease in the western Los Angeles County waterway, often blaming industrial dumping, urban runoff or other man-made causes for the pollution. One cause that apparently never crossed their minds: the La Brea Tar Pits. It turns out the tourist attraction and preferred field trip destination of seemingly every grade schooler in the region has sent oily wastewater spilling into the highly polluted creek. The tar pits, in Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, overflow during heavy rains, overwhelming the devices that separate oil from water. Polluted runoff then gets into the storm drain system, spilling into the creek and emptying into the ocean, according to county planners. It’s unclear how big a polluter the naturally occurring tar pits have been. Still, the release of pollutants has cost the county money.”

Read More: Los Angeles Times Blog

Over 1,000 Arrested While Protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline

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“One of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the environmental movement is underway as over 1,000 people have been arrested in front of the White House while gathering to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline, which will extend from the Athabasca tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, is a threat to our environment and threatens the drinking water of millions of people in its path.

The pipeline is especially threatening because it will run from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada through the Ogallala aquifer—one of the world’s largest supplies of fresh water—as well as major rivers that supply substantial agricultural water to farmers and drinking water to millions of Americans.”

Read more: Food & Water Watch


Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Incoming? House Passes Bill Mandating Decision Within 4 Months

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“The Keystone XL pipeline is unique in that it poses both a supreme environmental threat and is gravely symbolic; a harbinger of a certain fossil fuel-dependent doom, if you will. If constructed, the pipeline would carry tar sands crude all the way from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In all, the pipeline would span over 1,600 miles. And tar sands crude, being literally the dirtiest fuel source we know of, is nastier stuff than regular oil, and has been found to be more likely to cause leaks and spills. And since we already see plenty of those with the regular pipelines (the Yellowstone pipeline rupture just weeks ago), there’s plenty of reason to be concerned.

Yet the US House of Representatives just acted to bring this abomination one step closer to reality.

The House voted 279-147 in favor of forcing the Obama administration to make a decision on the $7 billion dollar pipeline by November 1st. And though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where the Democrats still maintain a majority, it’s a foreboding sign that the pipeline is inching closer to reality.”

Read more: AlterNet


Nebraska Water Scientists Warn of Oil Pipeline’s Risk, Call for More Study

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“WASHINGTON—Great Plains states are risking an unknown level of environmental and economic hurt if the U.S. State Department persists in routing a controversial tar sands pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer without further study.

That is the scientific warning coming from a pair of University of Nebraska professors with expertise in groundwater flow and contamination.

In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (attached below), the two scientists laid out how their state’s fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed.

Their concerns align with those expressed by Environmental Protection Agency authorities in their recent harsh critique of the State Department’s second attempt to draft an environmental review of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.”

Read more: Reuters