It may come to light that Trump gained occupancy of the White House fraudulently, and has presumed the power to wreak havoc on our environmental protections. But consider the parallel case in Brazil, different only in that the actors are more amateurish.
Michel Temur was installed as Interim President after his centrist Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) led the impeachment of President Dilma Ruosseff of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT). Temur and Senator Aécio Neves, who was Rousseff’s 2014 opponent in the presidential campaign, had accused Rousseff of taking illegal state loans to shore up a tanking economy. Though no proof was produced against Rousseff, she was impeached anyway. Now however, there has emerged hard evidence of criminality by both Temur and Neves. Neves was caught on tape requesting 2 million Reals from a businessman, and was removed from office by a Supreme Court ruling. Temer was caught on tape also, when endorsing ongoing bribes to maintain the silence of former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who presided over Dilma’s impeachment – After Latest Bombshells, Only Michel Temer’s Removal and New Elections Can Save Brazil’s Democracy.
Temur is Brazil’s most unpopular leader on record. While he is momentarily refusing to resign, his removal seems inevitable, as his key allies are starting to abandon him. But just like in the U.S. where a *president who some consider a moron is eliminating environmental “impediments” to corporate profits, in Brazil a president considered a felon is doing the same. Even when these two are gone, their damage will have been done. Most of Temur’s damage in Brazil is the decimation of the Amazon rainforest and its ability to sequester vast amounts of CO2, making the planet less livable for all of us. Globally, an estimated 7.8 BMtC (billion tons of carbon per year) come from fossil fuels and cement manufacturing, and 1.1 billion tons of carbon come from deforestation for agriculture. Forests and other plant communities currently sequester an estimated 2.6 BMtC, or 29% of total global emissions – The Great American Stand Report.pdf (page 10).
The Brazilian agricultural lobby was a key player in replacing Rousseff with Temur, so Temur is obliging their desires. With soybeans and beef cattle a large part of the Brazilian economy, agribusinesses and large landholders have been pushing through legislation to reverse longstanding protections for the rainforest. Temer is also fast-tracking major development projects that will lead to further deforestation, including hydroelectric dams and highways. On top of which, a 43% cut in the Ministry of Environment budget and 44% cut in science research budgets will reduce environmental law enforcement in Amazonia to virtually zero – Amazon rainforest under threat as Brazil tears up protections. More directly, Temur has proposed legislation to reduce the size of the Jamanxim National Forest by about 862,610 acres, or 27% (an area roughly the size of Portugal). He also has has abolished a vast national reserve of roughly 17,800 square miles (bigger than the size of Denmark) to open the area to commercial mining of gold, iron, and manganese – Brazil scraps Amazon reserve to allow mining.
Soybeans and cattle grazing form the backbone of Brazil’s agriculture sector, which is 5% of GDP, but a full 29% when processing and marketing is added in. The record soy harvest this year, plus a strong comeback in the corn harvest, has been credited with pulling the Brazilian economy out of a multi-year recession – Agriculture, a strategic sector for Brazil’s economic growth. Out of economic priorities, many concessions are being made to soy and meat producing interests, a major one being the opening of more land through deforestation. But due to opposition by conservationists, agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer-Daniels Midland pledged not to deforests the Amazon, agreeing to an Amazon Soy Moratorium in 2006. However, large-scale soy growers simply moved their plantations to areas like the Cerrado Biome, a tropical savanna next to the Amazon Biome, with an enormous capacity for storing CO2 – Amazon deforestation linked to Cargill, McDonald’s and British retail giants. In an all too common scenario, the rainforest is at the mercy of the Brazilian and global economies.
On 23 October 2017, 92 of the world’s largest banks will meet in São Paulo, Brazil to recommit to the Equator Principles, a set of rules guiding which industries and projects they will and won’t finance. These so called “Equator Banks” have promised to avoid or minimize the social, environmental and climate impacts of such projects. But the currently worded principles are too vague to prevent banks from financing dirty oil, deforestation, coal, and mega-hydro dams. So a coalition of 65 environmental, human rights and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations are organizing a global action on 23-24-25 October. They are calling on the Equator Banks to completely revise the outdated Equator Principles to include an explicit commitment to the Paris climate goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, and to include Indigenous People’s rights to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) before investment in projects on their lands. Learn more here – Equator Banks Called Upon to Act on Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. And you may then want to sign a petition to the Equator Banks here – Equator Banks, Stop Financing Climate Disasters and Respect Indigenous Rights.
Of the world’s 500 biggest corporations, just 50 of them are generating 75% of the greenhouse gases from corporate sources. According to a 2013 article in the Sustainable Business Journal, “At least 17 of the worst 50 are U.S. companies, many of them in the oil industry: Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Apache, Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum. Other offenders include Carnival, Air Products & Chemicals, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Praxair, AT&T, American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and Exelon.” Some companies like Amazon and Apple declined reporting at all, while others gave only selective information to downplay their carbon footprint. For example, in the financial sector, just 6% disclosed emissions associated with their investments, which make up the majority of their emissions. Bank of America is a good example – it touts its environmental progress while continuing to invest in coal – 50 of the World’s 500 Biggest Companies Undermine Progress on Climate Change.
E & E News published a report in 2014 that quantified economically the societal costs of climate disruption, for anything from “sea-level rise, to extreme heat, and crop losses, that will cost the country several billion dollars annually in the decades ahead”. Of concern is who pays these costs? Costs from flooding, storm damage, wild fires, disease, and drought typically fall on the shoulders of emergency agencies, insurance companies, governments (taxpayers), or simply individuals. Such losses resulting from corporate actions are “externalized” off the company books into the public sphere, by way of denying cause and consequence – ‘Risky Business’ report puts climate costs at many billions of dollars annually.
But now in a 2017 study published by the Climatic Change Journal, the authors report that “Using a simple, well-established climate model, our study for the first time quantifies the amount of sea level rise and increase in global surface temperatures that can be traced to the emissions from the 90 largest carbon producing companies. We have the data needed to link the emissions traced to products sold by a fossil fuel company to a specific share of changes in temperature and sea level rise”. This is a sea change (pardon the pun). Exact costs of given climate disasters can now be pinned on the balance sheets of specific corporations! For example, they report that “More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors”. This data can be confidently used by governments to assess corporations for damages, or by individuals or communities to sue corporations for damages. In fact, “Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that the companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas”. Read more at – Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much.
The organizing cohesiveness of BOLD Nebraska over the years to forge common ground between disparate socio-political interests fighting Keystone XL has been instructive and inspirational. While adjoining states, and U.S. officials alike, have had mixed success resisting the oilagarchy, the people of Nebraska have single handedly stopped TransCanada on multiple fronts – direct action, the courts, the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and creative actions like solar installations along the route of the pipeline. This kind of success can be achieved only by presenting a united front, united only due to mutual respect. The BOLD Nebraska folks, under Jane Kleeb’s guidance, listened to the concerns of conservative farmers and ranchers, school districts, water districts, and tradesmen to build an awareness of the pipeline’s likely impact on their livelihood. The learning curve has been methodical and steady, and has paid off when you read comments like this: “I think if not for Bold, the pipeline would be in today”, says Art Tanderup. Tanderup found that his 160 acre farm, that has been in his wife’s family for 101 years, is in Keystone’s way. “[Jane Kleeb] was the glue that kept us landowners together, and kept the organizing that happened in the state going.” Kleeb related this tale. “About two or three years into the fight, one of the farmers came up to me and asked if I had ever heard of the documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. I started to laugh — I told him that indeed I had, but it’d been a while. And he was like, ‘Well, my daughter got me a Netflix subscription for Christmas, and I’ve been watching all of these documentaries on climate change, and man, we really should have been listening to Al Gore.'”
An article in Popular Science provides insight into the issues, the stakes, and the success of BOLD Nebraska. “Perhaps if TransCanada hadn’t first proposed to put the pipeline not only through a cherished region, but one that rests atop the state’s most precious resource, they would not have encountered such fierce resistance. But they did. And so from the beginning, as it were, the balances were not correct. Nebraskans really, really love their aquifer. Jane Kleeb noted,’There’s books, there’s songs, there’s poetry about the Ogallala Aquifer. We don’t have a ton of corporate agriculture in our state. It’s still family farms and ranches of people who homesteaded in the 1800s, still being run by those same families. Nebraska is kind of unique in that sense.
“‘Everything we do here is out of that aquifer’ says Tanderup, who grows mostly corn, soy, rye, and cover crops on his farm. ‘We drink it, the livestock drink it, we irrigate with it, and we water our gardens with it. It’s our water.’ John Hansen, President of Nebraska’s Farmers Union, believes that the Sandhills make for a risky shortcut. ‘Why would you run a pipeline in an area where, if it leaks, it goes right into the water supply?’
“Jim Carlson, who lives in Central Nebraska said ‘They came, knocked on my door, and offered me a pretty substantial amount of money’. That’s when he decided he should find out more about what was happening in his backyard. He learned that the oil will come from the tar sand fields of Alberta, Canada – a bitumin that isn’t liquid, but closer to the consistency of molasses. John Stansbury, an Associate Professor of Environmental Water Resources Engineering at the University of Nebraska said ‘a small leak from an underground rupture in the Sandhills could pollute almost 5 billion gallons of groundwater, if it went undetected. It’s important to note that when pipelines leak, the problem isn’t usually caught by high-tech leak detection systems. There are two problems with this. The first is that the bitumen sticks to everything — vegetation, rocks, riverbanks — and it’s not easily washed away. The second is that while conventional crude oil floats, bitumen sinks. In the end, knowing that, Carlson turned down a little more than $300,000 rather than allowing Keystone XL to come through his land.
“In August, Bold Nebraska (in coordination with 350.org, Indigenous Environmental Network, and a coalition of other groups) launched a $50,000 dollar crowdfunding effort to build solar installations inside the proposed pipeline route. Said Tanderup ‘My wife and I try to burn biodiesel, we try and burn ethanol, but we need to do more. We invested in a solar system for our farm’. The 91% of the farm’s kilowatt needs it generated last year wasn’t enough to satisfy them. ‘So, we bought an electric car, and we charge it off of the solar panels.’ Now that his eyes are open, Jim Carlson sees the signs of a warming climate all around him. Rising global temperatures make for an earlier spring. ‘We plant corn three weeks earlier than we used to’, he says.” Read more at – This land is (still) their land. Meet the Nebraskan farmers fighting Keystone XL.
Stretched along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana are some 840 petrochemical plants and refineries, as well as above-and-below ground oil storage tanks, and gas and oil export terminals. In addition, a large number of the more than 170 Texas Superfund sites are concentrated along the coast, 15 of which are in Houston alone. The floodwaters that covered the entire region have created a public health catastrophe that will persist long after the waters recede. Contributing factors are fecal coliform from swamped sewage treatment plants, molds growing in saturated structures, failure of some municipal water supply systems, inundated oil tank farms, leaking chemical plants and refineries, noxious plumes from fires, and the flooded Superfund sites – Harvey Aftermath: A Public Health Crisis in the Making.
There are quite a number of media stories about these various environmental disasters, but one of the more revealing views comes from the industry itself. A commercial group called Independent Chemical Information Service is the world’s largest petrochemical market information provider of pricing information, news, analysis and consulting to buyers, sellers and analysts. They examine in real time the status of supply and demand within 180 commodity markets, and their website has an interactive map to search for information on given products or companies. This map is very busy at the moment, with status reports on every business affected by Hurricane Harvey – Hurricane Harvey impact on the petrochemical markets (interactive map). You can view the entire Gulf Coast, zoom to a regional level, or to a city, or even down to neighborhood scale. Hover over the icon for a company, and see it’s status from a list including: shut down, reduced, restarting, operating, etc., and some disturbing categories such as “upset”, “closed”, and “force majeure”. “Force majeure” is a legal term, referring to a company’s inability to produce a product or service following a storm or other unanticipated event.
While floodwaters and storm winds may have affected the region as a whole, Harvey dumped most heavily on Houston proper. And in Houston, the worst effects are being felt by what are called “fence line” neighborhoods, or environmental justice (EJ) neighborhoods. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that more than a million pounds of emissions from the oil refineries and chemical plants that border EJ communities have been released into the Houston air. Both common sense and real estate appraisal tell us that land nearby to polluting industries is of poor marketability, so it’s the poor who end up living there. In Houston, the toxic impacts are worse than anywhere else. Houston is the only major city in North America without land use zoning. While other U.S. cities might allow housing to be located somewhat near to industrial sites, in Houston, residential use is allowed immediately across the fence or street from industrial uses – fence line neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are predominantly low-income and ethnic minority areas. It’s no surprise that both polluting industries and EJ neighborhoods are clustered in east Houston. You may want to sign this petition to Congress – Harvey relief MUST address the needs of fenceline communities.
The UCS has paired up with one of the most active EJ groups in Houston – the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) – TEJAS. Other groups such as the Houston Hip Hop Caucus are addressing the Harvey issues, but TEJAS has been central to EJ organizing for decades, during everyday living conditions and in crisis situations. TEJAS is notifying neighbors about toxic exposure safeguards, giving media interviews, and has filed a court motion to stop the EPA from delaying the Chemical Disaster Rule. Most notably, in response to the explosion and fire at the Arkema liquid organic peroxides factory in Crosby TX, TEJAS is urging nearby residents to evacuate, and pushing for full disclosure of the chemicals used in the facility. To donate to TEJAS, click this link – Donate to the TEJAS Harvey Fund, and be reassured it will go to disaster relief on the ground, not into the bureaucracy of a national agency.
On 31 August 2017, flooding interrupted electric supply to the Arkema peroxides plant. With no back-up power to keep storage tanks of chemicals refrigerated, rising temperatures triggered two spontaneous explosions. Fifteen police officers were taken to a hospital for inhaling fumes, while a 1.5-mile evacuation zone was imposed. Rather than allow the remaining tanks to reach explosive temperatures, on 2-3 September, the company staged “controlled ignition” of six more tanks (set them on fire), to “neutralize” the chemicals as the company described it – Evacuation zone around Arkema’s Texas plant lifted after controlled ignitions. TEJAS and UCS and others had demanded full disclosure of what was in the tanks, and what compounds would then be in the black smoke that neighbors would be breathing, but Arkema refused – (video) Smoke from chemical plant fires caused by Houston flood raises concerns, and As Arkema Plant Burns, Six Things We Know About Petrochemical Risks in the Wake of Harvey.
This report is just the tip of the iceburg. The UCS recommended these additional resources:
Some other sites for further reading are:
Bill McKibben has written an article describing not just the advisability of, but the financial feasibility of supplanting fossil fuels with solar and wind electricity. He points out that our industrial society is on a trajectory toward 100% renewable energy for multiple reasons. Technological advances in the design and scale of both wind turbines and photovoltaic collectors have brought the per-killowatt price down to out-compete coal and nuclear electricity. Heavy investment in electric and hybrid-electric autos has stimulated a rapid growth rate leading to the serendipitous side benefit of a huge rolling storage battery, which in turn offsets the earlier problem of renewables intermittency. Transmission network power pools are upgrading the electric grid to better convey electricity from remote wind farms to urban centers. Rooftop leasing programs for solar collectors has made financing solar within the reach of many more homeowners. Society is passing the tipping point where each of these advances is synergistically combining to make it all cheaper and within reach. As one California utility executive put it: “The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100 percent? That can be done today” – The Climate Movement’s New Battle Cry – 100% Renewables.
However, the political (read self-interested, plutocratic, monopolist) battle still goes on, trying to prevent or delay the inevitable. The Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Americans for Prosperity, the Edison Electric Institute, and others have their surrogates installed in many state legislatures and the three branches of the Federal government, to subsidize and give unfair advantage to centralized big coal and nukes. The Guardian UK recently published a report that Global fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 trillion per year. And Sustainable Business reported that 50 of the World’s 500 Biggest Companies Undermine Progress on Climate Change. But grass roots groups are countering much of that market manipulation by working with progressive Congress people, governors, state legislators, and mayors. The Sierra Club is finding dramatic success with its #ReadyFor100 campaign, which lobbies cities to commit to 100 percent renewable. Various states such as California and New York have set target dates to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Jeff Merkley proposed in April the first federal 100 percent bill – setting the gauntlet for 2018 and 2020.
Ultimately, the economics of renewables will bypass artificially propped-up fossil fuels. The economic strength of renewable electricity can be gaged by employment statistics. Already, more U.S. workers are employed in the solar industry than in coal fields. Bruce Graham, who runs the Cloud County, Kansas wind technician program, said “wind energy program graduates can make $20 to $25 per hour, and supervisors well above $25 per hour”. The wind industry is growing so fast that training schools can’t keep up with the demand – Wind farm growth saps technicians supply. An article in Eco Watch pointed out that six months of regulatory rollback by Trump has done almost nothing to create jobs on oil fields. Technology and economics, not environmental protections, are driving the loss of oil industry jobs. There is very little that this president—or any president—can do about it. The UK, France and Norway have all passed laws banning the sale of gas-powered cars by 2040, which will reduce demand for gasoline, leading to more oversupply of oil and a further downturn in prices. Conversely, Karl Cates, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said “Low prices for solar and wind are good for employment in the clean-energy sector because they drive development. It’s growing because it’s cheaper. Growth, of course, means more jobs” – Only Renewables Can Provide the Jobs and Revenue Trump Promised From Oil. On a final note – Wind Power Costs Could See Another 50% Reduction by 2030.