Saturday, November 26, 2016

Environmentalists been fighting hard for human life and property rights; where have the rest of you been?

To this day, stigma continues that environmentalists are, as a whole, more concerned with the pristineness of nature than with human life, and, furthermore, invariably or at least frequently Marxists or socialists. While addressing all the reasons for those stigmas is beyond the scope of this article, and acknowledging that environmentalism is no unified movement and that there is a wide variety of views among those who self-identify as environmentalists on matters such as human rights and economic systems, my goal here is to show that it is often environmentalists who are on the front lines in the fights for human life and property rights.

To all those who declare your distaste of Marxism, to those who claim to champion the cause of rural landowners, to Austrian economists who decry our current economy as "crony capitalism",  to both Republicans and right-wing Libertarians who fear that environmentalism has some hidden socialist/Marxist agenda, to Democrats who complain about Jill Stein stealing Hillary's votes and talk about how much they want to protect minorities, if you have not been supporting at least such specific environmentalist causes as are consistent with your stated values, where have you been?

Fear Marxism*? Josh Fox infiltrated China and successfully smuggled out his footage in spite of suspicion from Chinese authorities.

Josh Fox, a very popular environmental activist, successfully got video footage out of China -- and not the sort the Chinese authorities approved of. He was, unfortunately, unable to conduct as many interviews as he would've liked, as apparently his activities were reported. He hid the footage, and, after unsuccessfully trying to shake off the authorities, who were determined to tail him, ultimately decided to trick them into thinking he was just an innocent banjo player, not a journalist.

As a model of industrial efficiency, Beijing might be considered something of a success. Home to 20 million people, buildings are built in complexes, the same building repeated perhaps 60 times. Exports in consumer products are high.

Beijing pm2.5 count at time of writing this article,

In his documentary, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can't Change, Josh reveals Beijing as "a city that never opens its windows". Every building and car in Beijing apparently has a filter for something called "pm2.5", a sort of air pollution that plagues the city, much of it the result of burning coal. People check pm2.5 levels there the way people in other places check the weather. Outdoors, the use of masks is not uncommon.
Chinese wedding couple in gas masks.

An estimated 1.2 million-2 million Chinese die to air pollution each year, around 4,400 deaths per day. Those of you who point to industrial efficiency as an example of one of the benefits of capitalism have it backwards -- it is not capitalism's industrial efficiency, but rather, capitalism's ability to slow industrialism down, that we should be celebrating.

To all of you Republicans and Libertarians and even Democrats who say the Greens/environmentalists are too Marxist or socialist for you -- where have you been? Have any of your activists snuck video footage out of a communist country lately? Have you even watched any of Josh Fox's documentaries?

*Okay, so China isn't "real Marxism" any more than the USA is "real free-market capitalism", but hey, people still point at them as examples of "why communism doesn't work" or "why capitalism works", so apparently people see at least some likeness.

Right-wingers, support land ownership? Left-wingers, support minority rights? Care to extend that to indigenous Peruvians?

Water black with oil, from E. Guerva
Looking at AIDSEP, an advocacy organization for "los pueblos indígenas" (indigenous peoples), or Google translation since I don't know much Spanish, I'm seeing "Oil spills in the Amazon endanger the lives of indigenous peoples", a recent oil spill of at least 2000 oil barrels now polluting a major river (estimated 8000 families affected), apparently the 5th spill since 2011 caused by a company called Petroperu, "We demand clean water, human and environmental health, compensation to the population!" Amazon Watch, an indigenous rights and environmentalist group, posted a short video and article on the subject. (If you can't see the connection to more USA-centric politics, and that's all you care about, a clue: DAPL 40 years from now.)

I realize "territory" can be a difficult word for a lot of right-wing libertarians and Austrian economists to understand, so let me help translate. It is their version of "land rights" or "homesteaded"... not textbook as you understand it, but close enough that I hope you can get the message: the oil is violating their land and water rights. Conservatives who take a "whatever the government says" approach to land rights... I give up, but if whatever the government says is fine to you, why even bother participating in politics?

Left-wingers, especially those who voted Hillary and called everyone who didn't "racist" and/or "sexist", perhaps you could persuade your media to spend less time telling us who mocked who and more time on things like this, "Children and adults, including some nursing women, immersed themselves in oily water with no protective gear. Before long, many were complaining of headaches, dizziness, blurred vision or nausea. Some still have skin lesions." There is also concern about access to safe drinking water, damage to cassava and banana fields, and poisoned fish. From a previous oil spill, "Mothers said children and adults in their families are suffering from stomachaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness, and small children have skin rashes after bathing in the rivers." Or, you know, since the Democrat media probably doesn't care, maybe start tuning into other media more.

Anti-environment right-wingers, Hillary fanatics, where have you been?

Can we stop patting ourselves on the back for ending slavery and actually end it already?

From right-wing libertarians and Austrian economists, I often hear how capitalism ended chattel slavery. The more mainstream view seems to be that the Civil War ended it. While it's great that around 4 million slaves were in fact freed (still persecuted and without reparations, but, progress was made), that's not quite the same as truly ending chattel slavery, worldwide, or even just eliminating it from our own economy.

So, if we ended slavery, why is there an estimated 45 million slaves in the world today? Why are Hershey and Nestle not only permitted to sell chocolate made with slave labor, but are not even liable for failing to disclose this to their customers?

Historically, there was an attempt to use capitalism to end American slavery. A portion of the abolitionist movement, the "free produce" movement, wanted to boycott slave-made products. In an enlightened society, I believe it could have worked. Enough people boycotting slave-made products, and hopefully the slavers would, if not go out of business entirely, at least weaken enough to make slave revolts and escapes easier. But it would've had nothing to do with this myth that free-labor is more economically efficient, at least for raw material production, than slave labor. Apparently, "the prices [of free produce] were always unsustainably higher than the slave produced goods they were trying to replace". For it to work would've required a change in societal enlightenment -- our understanding of manners and etiquette -- to encourage consumers to act against their financial self-interest.

scars from after a slave escape attempt
Zooming in on modern chattel slavery in the chocolate industry, since it is relatively well-documented compared to some industries, chocolate farmers on the Ivory Coast make an average of under $2 per day, so to remain competitive, they often rely on child slaves who may have been tricked, sold, or kidnapped. Says one former slave, "Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten," and, "The beatings were a part of my life. Anytime they loaded you with bags and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again," and "I was afraid. The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten." Another said, "When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh." Another, "He tied me behind my back with rope and beat me with a piece of wood. Then he took a small gun, and said, `I'm going to kill you and dump you in a well.'"

Said a witness of what he saw upon visiting one farm along with police, "Except one child was not there. This one, his face showed what was happening. He was sick, he had (excrement) in his pants. He was lying on the ground, covered with cacao leaves because they were sure he was dying. He was almost dead. . . . He had been severely beaten."

While slavery isn't strictly speaking an environmentalist cause, it does overlap. Both organic and fair trade certification are widely believed to provide strong protection against the possibility that a product contains slave labor. Others suggest that the protection is even greater for "single origin" or "direct trade" (which also often happen to have organic certification too). Ultimately, the greater the amount of oversight, or alternatively the shorter the supply chain, and the better the price paid, the greater the chance that the product is slave free. While insisting on buying slave free products, so far as you can tell, in industries where certifications exist, is of course not the only way to fight slavery, and, arguably, not even the highest impact way, objections that I hear have nothing to do with preferring a different method, and more to do with either unwillingness to pay the extra price ("I'm too poor" even from people who make over $100k per year) or confusion about what slavery means and too much laziness to do the research ("child labor, well, wouldn't they just starve if we didn't buy the product?"). For whatever reason, I've noticed, that the people I meet who are most willing to change their consumer habits to try to combat slavery are also the most willing to change their consumer habits to reduce their environmental impact.

Those of you who advocate for economic systems of "voluntary interactions" and those of you who say you care about "minority rights", if you have not taken a stand on modern chattel slavery, then where have you been?

Mineral rights -- eminent domain for oil and gas drillers, only worse

Who has been standing up for the rights of farmers and ranchers on good, homesteaded country land? Certainly not the Republican party (maybe a few individuals, but, most definitely not George Bush). Not the libertarians either if a search on and for "mineral rights" is any indication. Nor Obama nor Hillary, though I suppose it was never their demographic unless you still believe the Democratic party cares about the environment or disabled people, in which case it should overlap. So who has been standing up for country landowners? Environmentalists!
Unwelcome drilling rig violating homesteaded land

Drilling pad versus house, Source: Split Estate
In 2009, environmentalists released the film "Split Estate", which contains numerous interviews with country landowners among other relevant information. A "Split Estate" is when one party ones the surface rights, and another owns the mineral rights, and, in many western states, this includes the right to access the minerals without permission or regard for the surface owner. A legal concept that has no bearing on any version of homesteading or natural land rights I've ever heard of. Many of these landowners speak of air pollution, water pollution, ground contamination, strange and gruesome illnesses.

Now, I realize there are many varied views on homesteading and land ownership, but we aren't talking about some unobtrusive teleporter from Star Trek that can magically access the resources without affecting the surface where people live and farm. Nor are we talking about descendants of historical victims seeking redress for past wrongs. Nor refugees just trying to find a place to survive. These are aggressive corporations, acting with the permission of the government, coercing the locals with unwanted development on their land, poisoning them, and making them sick, so they can get rich. It's a massive subsidy measured not in tax dollars but in land, air, water, health, and life. And it's worse than eminent domain because they don't even have to buy the surface owner off.

Flaming tap water, source: Gasland
The environmentalist tradition of protecting landowners continued when Josh Fox, a landowner in mineral rights, forced pooling, and sometimes more traditional eminent domain, the focus of the films Josh Fox makes is more on the community wide effects of land and water pollution and resulting health problems and the level of fraud perpetrated by the gas industry. Even if the drill isn't on your land (and it very well might be, whether you like it or not) the pollution can still get there and cause dire problems. Like Split Estate, Josh Fox's Gasland (2010) and Gasland 2 (2013) documentaries contain numerous interviews with landowners.
Pennsylvania, received a request for drilling rights on his land. Though the gas industry does use a variety of ways to override homesteaded land ownership such as

If homesteading, natural land rights, or public health are issues for you, but you haven't taken a stance regarding mineral rights, forced pooling, eminent domain, and community-wide pollution, or, worse, have taken a pro-drilling stance, then where have you been?

Whomever is out there who still believes in some level of free speech should cheer on Australian Green senator Scott Ludlam
Source: youtube, The Australian Greens

Political labels like liberal, conservative, and libertarian seem to have little power to predict someone's oft self-contradictory opinions on freedom of speech versus censorship these days. In any case, there's some terrible things happening to whistleblowers in Western nations lately, as Australian Green senator Scott Ludlam pointed out in his speech, including mention of the American whistleblower Bradley Manning who has been caged like an animal. Looking at some of the related news, it looks like, "Border Force Act could see immigration detention centre workers jailed for whistleblowing" and "The Act was passed with bipartisan support, with only the Greens opposing it." It appears that in spite of this law, some whistleblowers later risked potential jailtime to report rape and child abuse (which should be a reminder to us all of the importance of free speech) going on in immigration detention centres at the hands of authorities, and this was published by non-Australian news outlets... probably because in Australia, journalists who publish leaks can also be jailed, even if it is in the public interest. Ludlam has also fought passionately against data retention laws, even appearing as himself on the Juice Media's satirical Rap News. Unfortunately, the fight was unsuccessful, but Ludlam provided helpful tips on how Australians can protect their privacy in spite of these laws.

So, the award to the most pro-free-speech (and all the human rights protection that goes with that) party in Australia goes to the Greens. To those Australians identify as supporting free speech, but did not cheer for them, where have you been?

Anti-war folks, how about we attempt to end war in our own countries too, not only abroad?

protestor injured by grenade
The Greens have a strong history of anti-war advocacy. In the United States, Green presidential candidate Jill Stein slammed Hillary as being even scarier than Trump, based on Hillary's terrifying history of warmongering and potential to start a conflict with Russia, a nuclear superpower. In Australia, Green senator Scott Ludlam pointed out the stupidity of allowing the Prime Minister to declare war unilaterally, and criticizes the Syrian war efforts by both Australia and the United States, quoting Wikileaks as evidence. "Nobody has clean hands, and yet it is the people of Syria who have paid the price."

While Libertarians also have a strong history of opposition to wars abroad, what about wars at home against our own populations?

In the United States, for example, we have a long history of violence against American Indians. We have another chapter of this playing out in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests right now, where Standing Rock Sioux and their allies fight for their land and the water for millions of people. We're seeing tear gas, baton bashings, mace, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons being used against a people whose claims to sovereignty the government has repeatedly attempted to ignore or buy off. While it is hopeful to see that they do not stand alone this time, it is also disheartening to see that even in this digital age where we can see video footage online, there are still so many who would rather see the pipeline company win.

To be fair, I have seen a few libertarian objections to DAPL, but where have the rest of you been?

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