Exxon helped cause the climate crisis. It’s time they owned up
Fossil fuel companies bear as much responsibility as governments do for humanity’s climate predicament – and for finding a way out. Our planetary house is on fire, and these companies have literally supplied the fuel. Worse, they lied about it for decades to blunt public awareness and policy reform.
There’s no better time for ExxonMobil and other petroleum giants to be held accountable than at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. The Glasgow summit is more than just another international meeting. It is the last chance for world leaders to limit future temperature rise to an amount that civilization can survive. Doing so, scientists say, will require a rapid, global decline in oil, gas and coal burning.
Fossil fuel companies have fiercely resisted this imperative for years, lobbying governments, often behind the scenes, to maintain the status quo. Cop26 is an ideal setting to bring the companies’ resistance to the world’s attention and put it on trial, at least in the court of public opinion.
Dozens of these lawsuits seek financial compensation from fossil fuel companies for the loss and damage caused by the burning of the companies’ products. Some lawsuits – for example, those brought by New York City and the state of Minnesota – point out that oil and gas companies have known privately for decades that their products would cause catastrophic temperature rise and extreme weather. Nevertheless, these companies lied about what they knew, telling the outside world that human-made climate change was unproven.
An internal Exxon document dated 16 October 1979 and stamped “Proprietary Information” stated that increasing fossil fuel combustion “will cause a warming of the earth’s surface … and dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050”. Royal Dutch Shell even anticipated the current wave of lawsuits: an internal study in 1998 forecast a scenario in which environmental groups would band together to file “a class action lawsuit on the grounds of neglecting what scientists, including [the industry’s] own, have been saying for years”.
Indeed, last May the Netherlands branch of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth won a landmark case against Shell. A Dutch court ordered Shell to bring its global operations in line with the Paris agreement goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This will require Shell to reduce both its own and its customers’ emissions by a staggering 45% from 2019 levels by 2030. Shell is appealing the ruling.
Such large, rapid emissions reductions happen to be exactly what the latest science says the Glasgow summit must achieve. Only by slashing heat-trapping emissions in half by 2030 can humanity plausibly achieve the larger imperative of ending emissions entirely by 2050.
Fossil fuel companies cannot be put on trial in Glasgow: the Cop26 summit is a diplomatic meeting, not a court of law. But wrongdoing can also be alleged and adjudicated in courts of public opinion. Cop26, as a high-profile gathering of thousands of government officials and civil society representatives that will receive extensive media coverage, could have a powerful impact on public narratives throughout the world.
The formal Cop26 proceedings also offer an opportunity to make fossil fuel companies a constructive part of the solution to the climate emergency. Governments and climate activists in the global south have long demanded compensation for the loss and damage poor countries suffer from extreme weather events that are worsened by the climate crisis, such as heat, drought, storms and rising seas. They justify this demand on two grounds: these climate impacts fall disproportionately on poor countries, even though they have emitted exponentially less heat-trapping gases than rich countries have.
Rich countries accept this logic: in the Paris agreement, they pledged to provide $100bn a year in climate aid to poor countries. They have yet to honor that pledge, however, and experts calculate that poor countries actually need at least twice that much money to adapt to climate impacts while also shifting their economies to clean energy.
Whatever the actual amount, taxpayers in rich countries are the ones currently slated to cover the cost of such climate aid. But why shouldn’t that burden fall instead on the true authors of the climate emergency?
Fossil fuel companies have known for decades that they were driving civilization to ruin. They didn’t care. Indeed, they lied to keep the profits rolling in. Isn’t it time for them to start paying for the trouble and suffering they’ve caused?
This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story. Mark Hertsgaard is Covering Climate Now’s executive director
Climate change and drought threaten a way of life for Arizona farmers
Miranda Green, Contributor September 16, 2021
Nancy Caywood recalls the days when the white tufts on the cotton plants on her family’s 255-acre farm popped out against the stark blue desert sky, and their alfalfa fields were a sea of green yielding eight to 10 cuttings a year.
“To walk out and smell the fresh hay, there’s nothing like it,” the third-generation Casa Grande, Ariz., farmer told Yahoo News.
This year, thanks to the extreme drought that experts say is exacerbated by climate change, all they’ve been able to grow successfully is weeds.
“My grandfather may have experienced rough times, but never a mega-drought. He’s never had to tear out his entire farm,” said Caywood. “We’re scared to death.”
The water situation is dire in the state of Arizona, which is facing its 22nd year of drought. Despite some relief from the annual monsoons, daily temperatures in the state are still hitting record highs, and local rivers are running dry. In mid-August, the federal government announced its first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado River, triggering cuts in the amount of water Arizona will be allowed to draw from it, starting in January.
It’s a reality that scientists say is a result of a warming planet caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and Arizona’s farmers are facing what could be a make-or-break moment for their industry. But while agriculture is well represented in the state’s Republican-majority Legislature, many in the party have refused to acknowledge a link to climate change or pass bills to address it.
“They talk about drought, but don’t talk about the fact that climate change is intensifying the drought. They don’t acknowledge it relative to fires and the fact that fires are larger relative to climate change,” said Sandy Bahr, Grand Canyon chapter director for the Sierra Club. “They are just not in touch with science at all. Or any of the reports that come out that point to climate change as exacerbating many of these issues.”
Arizona was once a national environmental leader. In 2006, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an executive order to create a climate action plan, making it one of the first states to do so. But there’s been a strong reversal since then. In 2010, the next governor, Jan Brewer, signed a law that forbade any state agencies from monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and it remains on the books today.In 2015, Arizona’s Legislature prohibited cities from requiring any energy benchmarking in commercial structures. And in 2019, it passed a bill that prevents Arizona’s cities and towns from banning any natural gas or other fossil fuel hookups in buildings.
The state’s current governor, Doug Ducey, came close to acknowledging climate change in 2019, nearly four years into his term, saying: “Nobody knows better than the governor of a state like Arizona, that has such an arid climate and has had to make so many plans and sacrifices to have the rich and abundant water resources that we have, that we have to pay attention to our environment.”
Despite its “arid climate,” agriculture is one of Arizona’s biggest industries. Yuma County, near the southern border, is often referred to as the country’s “salad bowl,” due to its output of leafy greens in the winter. But the impact of the drought is likely to hurt farming in an outsized way.
Politicians in the state are considering desperate measures to help aid the industry, including an expensive water-desalination alternative, as well as a proposal to build a cross-state pipeline to drain water from the ever-flooding Mississippi River.
But agriculture is also a top consumer of water, using nearly 74 percent of the water in the state, according to a 2018 University of Arizona economic impact study, and that fact has created tension between municipalities and environmentalists who believe water conservation, not growing crops, should be the state’s main focus.
State Sen. Juan Mendez, a Democrat, said the bills that have so far been considered by the Legislature focus on conserving the “status quo,” instead of on a true solution. That’s because, he believes, the only real solution to Arizona’s problem is to restrict water allocation. Mendez himself has introduced and co-sponsored a number of bills on climate change in the state.
“No one wants to consider the idea of using less water. They want to throw money at a desalination plant. Now they are honestly considering moving water from another state,” Mendez said. “They are just keeping Pinal County farmers happy. There’s not going to be one answer that solves the drought problem or climate change — or all of these environmental disasters.”
Agriculture nets Pinal County $2.4 billion in annual profits, according to Chelsea McGuire, the Arizona Farm Bureau’s government relations director. It’s anticipated to be one of the first regions in Arizona to see its access to Colorado River water cut off, and instead will have to rely on limited groundwater supply and rain. Water shortage is expected to create a $66 million loss in crop sales there, and it’s causing farmers in the area to think deeply about the industry’s future. But there is also no obvious solution to their plight, says McGuire.
“No one is seeing this as temporary. We are seeing a dryer future. … I think everything is going to have to change, from what I’m growing, to how I’m growing it, to where I’m growing it,” she said.
Paul Ollerton grew up farming in Pinal County. His father, uncle and grandfather were also farmers. He said he’s facing a tough decision this year: He doesn’t have enough Colorado River water to grow all of his crops, nor the capacity to pump enough of it from the ground.
“We knew for a long time that this day was probably coming, and we just didn’t know when,” he said.
A partner and owner of Tierra Verde Farms in Casa Grande, Ollerton estimates he’ll have to leave nearly 25 percent of his fields fallow this year due to lack of water.
“Without really sounding negative and a Debby Downer, I don’t see a lot of future — it’s a tough battle here,” he said.
Many farmers’ frustration lies largely with the local municipalities, which get first choice of the water and then allocate the remaining surface water to farmers. But not all farmers lay the larger blame on climate change.
“I think there might be some things related to it, but I’m not saying climate change is the way to address all of these issues,” Ollerton said. “I don’t think it’s totally responsible for what’s happening. I don’t think I buy some of the theories or science. I think it’s just weather patterns. I think we’re just in a dry cycle.”
Caywood finds it equally hard to know where to place blame, though she says many in her town have pointed a finger at farmers.
“People don’t respect where their food is coming from. This growing in the desert has been done for decades, and we have ideal growing conditions,” she said. “Everybody asks if it’s climate change. I believe it’s cyclical. I believe it’s like climate change. … Whatever is happening, it’s happening fast. I thought something like this would happen over 100 years — this is happening over 20.”
Caywood says her family doesn’t expect to make any profits this year, and as that uncertainty plays out, she’s watched the worry lines grow on the face of her 40-year-old son Travis, also a farmer. She’s not sure what her family will ultimately do with their acreage, but many neighbors have already sold their land to a new growing industry in the state: solar.
“I’m losing my toughness over this. I want to be resilient and bounce back from this, but unfortunately, I am becoming an island surrounded by solar panels,” Caywood said.
She said there’s a chance her farm could be the next sale.
“My dad passed away in January. I was on my way to the farm in April. I drove over the canal and there was low water in it, and I just burst into tears, knowing that that was my livelihood drying up,” she said.
Native plants belong in Missouri and Kansas prairies — and in your front yards, too
Plants that are native to Missouri and Kansas — from our mighty oaks to brilliant wildflowers — support songbirds, monarch butterflies and other treasured wildlife. They also beautify home landscapes, city streets and parks, and can be used to manage stormwater, store carbon in the ground via complex root systems, and support pollinators. And if those weren’t enough virtues — I’ve got more: There are native plants for every gardening situation, from dry, rocky locations to poorly drained areas.
At the time it gained statehood, Missouri was blanketed with at least 15 million acres of tallgrass prairie — about a third of the state. Prairie here, and in Kansas, was part of the great North American prairie ecosystem that stretched from Ohio to the Rockies, north into Canada, and south to Mexico. Forty-eight percent of Jackson County was covered in prairie grasses and wildflowers. Today, there are fewer than 51,000 scattered prairie acres remaining in Missouri, with once vast landscapes converted to agriculture and other development.
Groups such as the Missouri Prairie Foundation, other land trusts and state agencies are protecting as much remaining, original, unplowed prairie and other habitats like forests, woodlands, glades and wetlands in the greater Kansas City area as possible — while they still exist to save. These natural communities provide vital habitat for pollinating insects, songbirds and other wildlife as well as perform carbon-capture, stormwater management and other services that benefit us.
These remnant wild spaces are also sources of seeds for the native plant industry. Purchasing native trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and other natives from native plant businesses to use in our yards, farms, businesses, schools and parks can restore ecological function to the metro area.
There are native plants that are compatible with every landscaping need and gardening condition. Natives adapted to dry rocky glades, for instance, are the same plants that work well in rock gardens or in the dry, poor soils in many urban parking lot borders. And wetland plants, evolved to tolerate periods of flood and drought, can be used in rain gardens, bioswales and other areas to slow and filter stormwater.
Many municipalities are using natives to convert unused turf areas into wildflower meadows to beautify parks, reduce mowing costs and provide pollinator and songbird habitat. Stormwater managers use prairie and wetland plants with complex root systems (some reaching 15 feet deep) to hold enormous amounts of stormwater, and to trap nitrogen and other nutrients that can pollute city-owned ponds and lakes.
There simply aren’t enough acres of intact natural habitats “out there” to sustain nature’s services that benefit us, nor to feed and fledge monarch butterflies, warblers and all the other animals that add to a community’s livability factor. We must make our human-scapes as habitable as possible, and restore nature’s web of life from the bottom up. That foundation is native plants. Happy gardening.
Carol Davit is executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation and its Grow Native! program. Native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, sedges and vines will be available for purchase Sept. 18 at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center at the Missouri Prairie Foundation native plant sale. Find many free resources on native landscaping from the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program at grownative.org. Learn more about Missouri’s prairie heritage and how you can be involved in protecting it atmoprairie.org.
Letters: ‘Shameless.’ ‘Cowards.’ Readers react to KY legislators’ actions on COVID.
Policy over politics
Republican legislators are wrong to approve a bill that lets local school boards set district rules for mask wearing. Debates are going on in these districts between those who resist wearing masks and those who support masks. The resisters say any government action that requires them to do so is against personal freedoms. The other side contends those who won’t wear masks go against the common good — threatening the freedom of every person’s life. The pandemic is worse. COVID hospitalizations are up and deaths from the virus are increasing. Studies show masks help slow spreading of the coronavirus.
We need our legislators to make laws based on fact instead of relying on a patchwork of school boards to decide if freedom is being violated. A statewide law to wear masks in schools will help lower the risk to our vulnerable school kids — our future — and to further the common good.
This isn’t a political matter. It’s a matter of public policy to stop COVID. No matter where one stands on who should resolve the friction between liberty and the greater good; it puts a modern spin on what Patrick Henry said: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Jim Kurz, Lexington
Face the truth
We’re at a point with the COVID Delta variant that words don’t need to be fashioned into summarizing everything bad and good that’s happened in our lives the past 18-plus months. We need to discuss our current situation and immediately take action with the brutally honest display of truth that is playing out in front of us every day. I hope at the end of each day we not only take action to protect those who can’t protect themselves, our children, but we also live our lives through our own Scriptural purpose to love thy neighbor as thyself.
I hope and pray that our local officials, community leaders, superintendents, school board members, and others have the courage to stand up for our children, and keep the masking requirements in place at our local districts. Let’s work together, stand united, and show our children and students what role models we all can be.
Craig Miller, Augusta
Nice going, GOP
Six of our counties are in the national top 10 for new virus cases including Senate President Robert Stivers’ Clay County. I’m old enough to remember back in May when the state’s positivity rate was about 3%. Of course that was because we had an evil, wicked, mean, and nasty governor who made us wear those awful masks because he cared about protecting us. But now we have our freedom. In case Senator Stivers’ pizza plan doesn’t work out, maybe he can induce funeral homes to offer discounts for COVID related deaths. Funeral directors don’t need to worry. With our legislators’ public health expertise, which is clearly shown by prohibiting statewide mask mandates, they’ll be doing land office business for quite some time.
Jay Hopkins, Frankfort
So much worse
“No good deed goes unpunished” is a good description of how the General Assembly rewarded Gov. Andy Beshear’s efforts to contain the COVID pandemic in Kentucky. His efforts helped to protect the people from the rampant spread of the virus. Since his emergency powers were removed, the numbers of people infected have spiked. ICU beds are full of COVID patients. Elective surgeries have been cancelled. COVID infections in children have skyrocketed. Good job, legislators! For science deniers, it brings to question what was their goal? Was it Darwinian survival of the fittest or more appropriately culling of the stupid?
Cheryl Keenan, Lexington
Behind the masks
The masks are off. Senate Bill 1 passed the Senate, then the House of Representatives approved the bill. While I was confident that Governor Andy Beshear would veto the bill, as he did, the super majority in the General Assembly overrode the veto. In this case, taking a mask off reveals a lot more than deadly germs that are easier to spread. Let me explain. Two years ago, another Senate Bill 1 strengthened the guidelines for safer schools that improved conditions to make schools safe. By approving the School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019, Republican leaders believed it was more important for the state to have uniform standards rather than let school districts do their own thing.
In this special session, another Senate Bill 1 sought to deal with important health and safety issues. Instead of looking out for the best interests and the health of all Kentuckians, Republicans in Frankfort have only cared about asserting their power. If they had been concerned about protecting the life of the citizens of this state, reason would have guided decisions. The masks of Republican leaders are off, and it’s easy to see who’s playing politics.
Todd Steenbergen, Glasgow
Where have we gone so wrong in teaching basic common sense? Ignorance is the only explanation I can think of for people calling themselves “patriots” while trying to overthrow our government (the word is traitor, not patriot). Looking at over 600,000 people dead from COVID-19 and virtually no one dead from the vaccine and still refusing to get it to protect themselves (math error). Getting medical information from politicians, Facebook, and talking heads on TV and radio instead of medical professionals. Believing in conspiracy theories that could only be true if many thousands of people could keep a secret and mainstream news organizations weren’t motivated to compete for viewers and criticize each other for inaccurate reporting. Politicians who are willing to let their own constituents die with bad information and decisions just to further their own ambitions (Hint: if your constituents are dying you are losing votes). This seems, by definition, to be a “death cult”. This past year has been a period fraught with changes and uncertainty, but that is when sane, educated people should seek information sources which take pride in a reputation for accuracy rather than deceitful lies designed to boost ratings.
Mark S. Freeman, Lexington
Shameless, just shameless — the Republican Party of the United States, particularly when it comes to public health. They ignore and argue against proven methods to combat a deadly infectious disease. A political gain is more attractive to that pack than mitigating suffering or forestalling death.
Here in Kentucky, we have clear examples of that ravenous behavior in the persons of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Congressman Thomas Massie and Attorney General Daniel Cameron, along with the GOP state legislature. One could easily construct a substantial list of shortcomings but a few lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem go precisely to the heart of the matter.
His piece “The Hyenas” describes a burial party leaving a grave, with the animals coming out at night to dig it up. The hyenas:
“Who, being soulless, are free from shame,
Whatever meat they may find.”
Robert Louis Hetzel, Louisville
Children pay price
The ancient Ammonites worshiped a deity called Molech. This worship included the sacrifice of children and others as burnt offerings. Today we are witnessing a modern-day “Molech” in the form of COVID virus in which children are being deliberately exposed to conditions conducive to them becoming victims of the virus. The parents of these children may believe that they are doing what is right, just as the parents who sacrificed their children to Molech in ancient times probably believed they were doing the right thing. First responders, medical workers, military, and others (Christ was the ultimate example) sacrifice themselves for others. Molech worshipers sacrificed children and others in their control for the benefit of the deity or to receive a favor from the deity. Today’s sacrifice of children to the COVID Molech is of this latter type and is for free choice, supported by some elected officials apparently serving as Molech priests, perhaps for political gain. A primary responsibility of the government is to provide and promote the welfare and safety of the citizenry. Many officials are failing miserably in this duty. Children deserve the greatest love and protection possible from their parents, community and leaders.
Henry R. Wilson, Gravel Switch
Where are lawmakers?
I am appalled at the decisions being made concerning the most frightening epidemic in our lifetime. The lack of leadership to require FDA approved vaccinations and masks is intolerable. Recent headlines were so depressing, I almost cried. Who are these people caring so little for a child’s life, who cannot be inconvenienced to wear a mask to prevent killing someone else?
I was required to be vaccinated against smallpox, polio, diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella. I was vaccinated for COVID. The COVID vaccine is proven, free, and the only answer to end this pandemic.
I voted for Democrats and Republicans. I contributed to both parties for candidates I believed would have the intelligence to serve the best outcomes for the majority and the independence to stand up if the majority repressed the less fortunate or minorities in need. This is not about party; this is about common sense, freedom, liberty, and true democracy.
Where are the intelligent legislators who understand science? Where are the legislators who are brave enough to lead us out of this pandemic? Who will represent those who cannot protect themselves? The legislature is busy playing politics, hence won’t support our governor.
Carol Brooks, Lexington
Merchants of death
The GOP in Kentucky is mandating the death of Kentuckians. Their lies about the reliability of science is demonstrated in their use of it everyday in nearly every function they carry out, in the computers they use, the cars they drive, the glasses they wear, the cell phones they use. If science is so “unreliable” then they need to stop relying on it altogether.
The GOP cowards are failing and fearing to lead their constituency from the darkness of ignorance. They are sycophants trading the lives of their constituents for not anything having to do with the falsehood of freedom they promote, but a selfish perception of political gain. Kentucky children will die for this, Kentucky parents will die for this, and Kentucky teachers and laborers will die for this, and they know it.
People who are among those who are brainwashed into dubiousness, that dubiousness will end once they are intubated and placed in a coma in a final attempt to save their life, or when they watch their child go through that trial, or when that child cries, wondering if they will ever see their mother and father again, after they are admitted to the hospital.
‘Despondent’: Battered Louisiana city gets more rain from Nicholas; 100,000 without power in Texas
John Bacon, USA TODAY
More than 100,000 Texas homes and businesses remained without power for a second day Wednesday as the remnants of Hurricane Nicholas slid across the Gulf Coast from the Lone Star State into Louisiana, drenching a region still staggering from Hurricane Ida’s wrath less than three weeks ago.
Nicholas, downgraded to a tropical depression with sustained winds of 30 mph, was centered about 30 miles northeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, early Wednesday. The storm was inching east-northeast at 5 mph.
“Much of South & Central Louisiana are under flood watch today as #Nicholas moves through the state,” Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Wednesday. “Stay aware of conditions in your local area.”
Earlier, Edwards warned the state’s residents to “take this storm seriously and put yourself in a position to weather it safely.”
Almost 80,000 utility customers remained without power in the state, where the lights went out for more than 1 million homes and businesses during Ida’s peak fury.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said city crews had scoured the drainage system to keep it free from debris that might cause clogs and flooding. Hurricane Laura struck the city a little more than a year ago. Then came Hurricane Delta, then a January freeze that shattered pipes across the city of nearly 80,000 residents just 60 miles east of Beaumont, Texas. A rainstorm in May swamped houses and businesses yet again.
“With what people have gone through over the last 16 months here in Lake Charles, they are very, understandably despondent, emotional,” Hunter said. “Any time we have even a hint of a weather event approaching, people get scared.”
In Pointe-aux-Chenes, 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, Ida tore the tin roof off Terry and Patti Dardar’s home, leaving them without power and water. Rains from Nicholas have now soaked the top floor of their home – but it also provided badly needed water their family collected in jugs. They poured the water into a large plastic container through a strainer, and a pump powered by a generator brought the water inside.
“We ain’t got no other place,” Patti Dardar said. “This is our home.”
The National Weather Center warned that Nicholas, which already dumped more than a foot of rain on parts of Texas and several inches on areas of Louisiana, was expected to generate an additional 3 to 6 inches across the central Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle through Friday, with isolated totals of 10 more inches possible in some areas.
“Life-threatening flash flooding impacts, especially in urban areas, are possible across these regions,” said Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist.
Tornado warnings were issued in parts of southern Louisiana early Wednesday. The storm was forecast to gradually dissipate over central Louisiana on Thursday.
Hurricane Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday along the Matagorda Peninsula with torrential rains and storm surge. The cleanup was in full swing in Texas, where more than 14 inches of rain fell on parts of the Galveston area. Houston was hit with 6 inches, and the city set up cooling and phone charging centers in areas where power outages dragged on.
Earlier, first responders joined with members of the National Guard in rescuing people from flooded homes.
A historically Black town stood in the way of a pipeline – so developers claimed it was mostly white
Ben Paviour, VPM and Abi Cole, Floodlight
As fracked gas fields in West Virginia boomed over the past decade, energy companies jumped at the chance to build massive new pipelines to move the fuel to neighboring east coast markets. The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have been the crown jewel.
But Union Hill, Virginia – a community settled by formerly enslaved people after the civil war on farm land they had once tilled – stood in the way. Residents fought against a planned compressor station meant to help the gas move through the pipeline, arguing that because Union Hill is a historic Black community, the resulting air pollution would be an environmental injustice.
But Dominion Energy, one of the pipeline’s two developers, kept pushing. It pledged to invest $5.1m in community services in exchange for the imposition. The company hired a former member of the governor’s cabinet, who grew up in Union Hill, to drum up support from church leaders to landowners. They flew local leaders on a helicopter to Pennsylvania to tour a compressor station there.
Dominion’s campaign split the Union Hill community, dividing church congregations, and in some instances, families. While some residents were for the investment, others saw their resolve to fight the pipeline deepen. In response to mounting opposition, Dominion took an unexpected tack: the company hired outside help to argue that the community around the site was, in actuality, mostly white.
“No environmental justice community is disproportionately impacted,” the pipeline project told state officials January 2019, arguing that the communities around the project were “not majority minority or low income”. Dominion did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The locals who took on Dominion eventually became the linchpin of a campaign that helped to get the pipeline canceled. But the fight against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a familiar story now playing out around the country as gas companies expand a sprawling web of pipelines. Even when minority communities say no, the fossil fuel industry keeps saying yes.
Even when minority communities say no, the fossil fuel industry keeps saying yes
In Minnesota, Indigenous-led environmental groups are fighting the hundreds of miles of crude oil pipeline Enbridge is constructing for its Line 3 project from Canada to Wisconsin. In North Brooklyn, New York, community groups are alleging a civil rights violation against Black and Latinx residents over National Grid’s plans to build a seven-mile natural gas pipeline through the area. In North Carolina and Virginia, tribal advocates are opposing a 70-mile extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would cut through Indigenous and Black burial sites and put a large compressor station near a largely rural Black and Native American population.
In many cases, energy companies have succeeded against the wishes of residents, winning local government support by pledging opportunities of economic growth. Environmentalists are growing frustrated with the Biden administration, considering its environmental justice agenda to be full of false promises, as it has been reluctant to fight specific fossil fuel projects.
“Union Hill was unique and not unique. The patterns are quite widespread,” said Mary Finley-Brook, who served on the Virginia governor’s advisory council on environmental justice at the time of the Union Hill battle. Historically, “infrastructure was definitively put through Black communities. We [saw] that with the interstate and with power lines and it continues to develop that way.”
Some residents believe Union Hill wouldn’t have been eyed by developers if different people lived there. “If it had been all millionaires living in that area, it would never have been considered,” said Paul Wilson, a Baptist pastor of a historic Black church near Union Hill.
Had the community been less effective in battling Dominion, he said, “all of the destructive forces from that pipeline were going to rest on a Black community”.
Formed in the chaotic aftermath of the civil war, Union Hill is one of the few historically Black communities in Virginia that retained its identity and history.
Formerly enslaved African Americans bought land in the area – in some cases, the fields they’d toiled in under slavery – and formed a small “freedman community”. In 1869, the Buckingham county courthouse burned down, possibly from arson, taking with it records that could have been used for restitution for the formerly enslaved.
Today, some locals are fifth-generation descendants of that initial settlement. Community surveys suggest the area contains burial grounds of the enslaved laborers and freedmen. When Dominion bought land for the compressor station in 2015, some residents worried about the effect development would have on the community, potentially uprooting historic grave sites, polluting the nearby water and air, and lowering the value of land.
Dominion argued the compressor station – a facility which pressurizes natural gas to transport it from one location to another – would be among the cleanest in the country and have a negligible impact on the Union Hill community. Locals were skeptical of the science, but were entirely unprepared for the next argument Dominion put forward in support of the pipeline.
Utilizing a 2017 report from federal regulators, the company used census data to claim that the facility wouldn’t disproportionately impact Black, low-income areas.
That finding contradicted the lived experience of most locals. As Chad Oba, who is white and the head of local environmental group Friends of Buckingham county, put it: “I’ve lived here for 35 years […] I know who my neighbors are. I know that I live in a mostly African American community.”
Dr Lakshmi Fjord, a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia’s anthropology department, organized a door-to-door survey in Union Hill, reaching three-quarters of households within a mile of the compressor’s proposed site. Fjord’s survey found that just 17% of residents self-identified as white, while nearly two-thirds were Black.
The question of whether or not to build out oil and gas infrastructure in Union Hill had real consequences for the community there. In the US, Black communities face higher rates of asthma and greater risk of premature death compared to white communities. African Americans are 75% more likely than whites to live in communities next to industrial facilities, according to a 2017 report from the NAACP and Clean Air Task Force.
The Virginia air board took up the issue in November 2018, in a meeting over whether to grant the facility a key permit. Several members raised questions about the competing claims about Union Hill’s racial makeup, and how the board should resolve them. The group decided to delay a decision. A few days later though, Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D) who has accepted nearly $400,000 from Dominion over his career – replaced two board members who’d raised questions, reportedly saying that their terms had already expired. His office denied it had anything to do with the pipeline issue.
‘Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked,’ the court wrote, vacating the pipeline’s construction permit
To bolster their case before the board, Dominion hired PC Analytics to conduct an analysis of the demographics of the population. Its owner, researcher and Richmond professor Paolo Catasti, has a history of working with the tobacco industry. Catasti’s findings, which became one of the main arguments used by Dominion to support the pipeline, was that the residents in Union Hill were not Black, but instead representative of the county and state they resided in: majority white.
Catasti’s analysis for Dominion drew from forecasts built using 2010 census data and concluded that African Americans make up just 22% to 25% of the population surrounding the proposed site.
In January 2019, the reconstituted board approved the permits. Environmental and community groups sued, arguing the state air board failed to scrutinize Dominion’s methodology in assessing Union Hill’s racial makeup when Fjord’s study was much more detailed.
“They were given evidence that there was a deeper story, and they disregarded it in the favor of the applicant,” said Stephen Metts, an analyst at New York’s New School who focuses on gas infrastructure projects.
The battle came to a close in January 2020, when the fourth circuit of the US court of appeals found the state air board never resolved conflicting claims about the demographic makeup of Union Hill residents, and criticized the board for its “flawed analysis”.
“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked,” the court wrote, vacating the pipeline’s construction permit.
The Virginia department of environmental Quality said it “is considering” the Union Hill ruling as it grows its environmental justice efforts, pointing to its recently established environmental justice office this year.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was ultimately canceled on 5 July 2020. Dominion’s then CEO, Tom Farrell, cited “increasing legal uncertainty” that large scale energy infrastructure projects faced in the US.
Metts said the verdict was a welcome precedent for communities fighting pipeline ventures. Federal and state regulators are “coming to a reckoning” over the scale of community pushback to big gas projects,” he said.
In Virginia, a law passed in 2020 inspired by Union Hill now requires state officials to consider environmental justice concerns when examining proposals.
“That era of just accepting it – I think it’s really over,” Metts said.
More than a year after the pipeline was called off, the effects of that conflict are still playing out in Union Hill.
There’s a question of what’s to be done with the 31 miles of pipeline built and 83 miles of trees cut prior to the pipeline’s cancellation. Federal energy regulators like July recommended leaving the infrastructure and felled trees in place. Additionally, many residents who had signed deals with the pipeline to allow the project to use portions of their property for construction now want the easements rescinded so that Dominion can no longer access their land. Dominion has said it has no plans to return the easements in the short-term, but will negotiate their return on a case-by-case basis after it completes restoration efforts – a process that could take years.
Despite the pipeline’s cancellation, Dominion announced in February it was donating $3.5m toward community services in Buckingham county. Over half of that money went to a local foundation chaired by Basil Gooden, the former Virginia secretary of agriculture who’d lobbied on Dominion’s behalf in 2018.
Union Hill residents are already facing another industry that would like to do business just a few miles away – gold mining.
After gold was found near Union Hill, state lawmakers agreed to fund a study on the effects of its mining, declining to institute a moratorium demanded by activists.
Elsewhere in the region, other community fights against pipeline projects continue, including a 14.5-mile intrastate pipeline in eastern South Carolina proposed to cross the Great Pee Dee River, and a compressor station being constructed in Northampton county, North Carolina, whose census block is 79% Black.
While the Union Hill fight was a victory, residents and anti-pipeline activists acknowledge it’s just one of a few.
“It’s an incomplete success story and it’s definitely a cautionary tale,” said Finnley-Brook. “The community is still divided, the community still lacks investment. It is still in a situation of desperation….We still need to recognize that the [pipeline’s investments] did not improve the standards of living for that community.”
Editorial: Don’t try suicide, GOP, you’re just gonna hate it
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Democrats own all of Colorado’s governmental institutions and more. If they are extremely fortunate the state’s Republican Party will give them a gift this week beyond their wildest dreams. Republicans would virtually ensure all-Democratic victories well into the future.
The Republican Party’s Central Committee will meet in Pueblo on Saturday and decide whether to end Republican primaries and prevent all of Colorado’s million-plus registered Republicans from choosing nominees for public office. Instead, the GOP would choose candidates through a caucus-assembly process in which only a tiny fraction of the state’s Republicans participate.
It gets worse. If the Republican Party goes through with it, the move will ensure that all of Colorado’s 1.5 million unaffiliated voters can vote only for Democrats in future primaries.
This is nothing short of a plan for political suicide.
Republicans already face an uphill battle in their hopes of winning at least one statewide race in 2022 because the state named for red has turned blue. If they kill the primary, the party’s chances of winning a statewide race become approximately zero.
Unaffiliated voters — the largest voting bloc in Colorado — will choose Democrats on primary day, with no Republican option. Months later, on the day of the general election, it is reasonable to expect most of them to support whomever they voted for in the primary. Under this proposal, that would be Democrats 100% of the time.
Party insiders who want this change don’t like the new system imposed when voters enacted Propositions 107 and 108 in 2016.
The new system allows unaffiliated voters to participate in either major party’s primary without declaring affiliation. Each registered unaffiliated voter gets a Republican and Democratic ballot and may return only one.
Supporters of opting out of primaries claim unaffiliated voters will nominate lightweight Republicans who don’t represent the party’s traditional values and platforms. They don’t want so-called RINO’s — Republicans in Name Only — taking over the party. Precedent proves them wrong. Former President Donald Trump fared better in open primary states than in states with a caucus-assembly nominating process. Candidates who win assemblies are not necessarily more conservative than those who win primaries. They are simply more skilled at inside ball.
This proposal makes no sense pragmatically. By killing the primary, Republican activists — the dedicated few who participate in caucuses, assemblies, and conventions — will have absolute control over which Republicans get on the general ballot. Unaffiliated voters, who are otherwise open to voting Republican, would resent the move. They won’t care about whoever a select few put on the ballot without their input. They will likely spite Republicans by voting straight Democratic tickets in general elections. They will reasonably conclude that Democrats, not the other party, allowed them to play.
Rank-and-file Republicans would resent the move, as well. Imagine being a Trump-supporting, working-class Republican. You work an evening shift and can’t get to the caucus. You have never been an activist but you cast your ballot when you receive it in the mail. But your state party has decided you no longer have a say in choosing nominees. The state party could not do more to alienate its base if that was its intent.
If Democrats are smart, they will covertly lobby members of the Republican committee to approve this proposal. They could not ask for more.
Colorado has long flourished as a swing state in which people with loyalty to neither party try to choose the candidates with the best prospects of improving the state’s health, safety, and economy. That puts Republicans in a potential sweet spot in 2022, given the various sad results of one-party rule. If we become a Democrat-only primary state, consider Colorado an official appendage of California under sustained single-party control.
Whether Republicans love or hate the rules imposed by voters, they must stay in the game. Choose a future for the GOP. Choose life. As the old Queen song implores, “don’t try suicide, you’re just gonna hate it.”
Inside Task Force Pineapple: How we saved Americans and allies trapped in Afghanistan
In the week before America officially exited Afghanistan, a private effort organized from inside the United States cobbled together a first-of-its-kind virtual underground railroad that got more than 800 Americans, Afghan veterans, interpreters and VIPs out of the country.
I was honored to play a part an effort that became known as Task Force Pineapple, taken from the code word the first high-risk interpreter used to make it into the airport in Kabul on his way to freedom.
We built a citizen-liaison network to protect Americans and other dedicated allies being left behind during the chaotic and expedited withdrawal of the U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic presence from the country.
Americans need to help protect fellow citizens, especially those abroad
Everything we accomplished arose from the ability of those involved to leverage our collective knowledge of Afghanistan and good relationships built over many years with allies and friends around the world.
Why did we do it? Because, to a man and woman involved, we believed it was the right thing to do.
For generations, it meant something to be an American. It meant caring about virtues like honor and integrity and acting with a distinctive sense of pride and a standard of respect for who we are. Other countries knew not to mess with Americans overseas because we would expend everything in our power to protect them.
A story I heard years ago illustrates the essence of this very American mindset: In 2003, a rifle company of a U.S. Marine Corps unit just outside Baghdad was ambushed. With a journalist for an international news agency filming things, a Navy corpsman serving alongside them as a medic turned and rushed through the fire, into the fight, and returned from the battlefield carrying an injured Marine to safety. He did this not once but three times. On his third run, carrying another injured man over his shoulder, the journalist called to him, saying in effect, Hey, mate, what’d you do that for? Didn’t you notice that wasn’t a Marine?
That newsman was right. That third wounded warrior wasn’t a U.S. Marine, he was an Iraqi soldier. As the story was told to me, the Navy corpsman’s response was simple but spoke volumes. “He was wounded,” he said. “We’re Americans. That’s what we do.”
What we accomplished through Task Force Pineapple is very much an expression of that same mindset.
Calling myself an American means something. And it carries with it a responsibility – this especially applies for those in American government – to honor our promise to take care of the people who have taken care of us.
These amazing warriors and Afghan allies fought directly alongside us. They all knew they might die for the cause. Many of them did. Some had family members murdered in retribution. Today, as Afghanistan has fallen and is once again under the control of the Taliban, we are obliged to save them.
Our values as Americans help us serve abroad
We cannot do this alone. Task Force Pineapple is standing by to assist whatever efforts the U.S. government may be contemplating. We have the skills and the contacts to help honor America’s promise to bring these people back by facilitating safe passage and resettlement with plans and funding for their successful futures, reintegration and repurposing of their unique abilities the U.S. military and government organizations once relied upon.
This is a matter of national honor. Our credibility is at stake. Leaving our friends in a state of extreme danger, failing to honor our commitments to their well-being as they made commitments to ours, will produce long-term damage not easily repaired.
The rest of the world is watching. Our allies, our competitors and especially our enemies. All are questioning our continuing commitment to those who help us in times of trouble.
I worry that U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities may be damaged for years to come. Why take the risk of helping America if America isn’t going to help you when the time comes. Our strategic influence is predicated upon the relationships we establish and maintain with people around the world who are willing to help us.
Why did I do any of the things I’ve recently done for the people trapped in Afghanistan? Because it was the right thing to do. We take care of the people who take care of us.
We’re Americans. It’s what we do. And that’s got to mean something.
Jason “Jay” Redman, who participated in Task Force Pineapple, is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, the author of “The Trident,” and founder and CEO of SOF Spoken Speaking, Courses and Coaching.
Pasture conditions in the US are the worst they’ve been since 2012. That’s bad for inflation.
By Claisa Diaz, Things Reporter September 15, 2021
The governors of 10 states in the American West recently called on the Biden administration to declare a drought disaster. It follows an intense summer of drought and record-breaking wildfires across the whole region. It’s been a month since the letter was sent and the administration has yet to act on it.
Data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that pasture and range conditions have been in decline for quite some time. Pasture varies in its uses but is important for harvesting livestock feed like hay, and provides range for animals to roam and graze. Less quality pasture means less food for livestock and other animals, which could lead to higher prices for meat and dairy products—or even a shortage. It also means more yellow and brown in typically green landscapes.
Drought is hurting US pasture and range
The USDA ranks pasture conditions from “excellent” to “very poor”, with “good” meaning yield prospects are normal. During the past two decades, only small portions of US pasture have regularly been in “excellent” condition but typically about 75% of US pasture is rated at least “fair.”
Conditions have continued to trend away from good since 2015. The portion of pasture and range rated “poor”, and “very poor” has increased—meaning more and more crops and grasslands are undergoing stress.
Less feed means higher prices
The cost of animal feeds is already going up for farmers, just as it did when pastures suffered in 2012. Though today, pandemic related supply chain issues and higher fuel costs are also contributing to the trend. Some areas are reporting shortages among increased prices.
California’s second drought in three years
“You have situations in central California where there’s not sufficient water at all and farms are collapsing, farms are failing,” said Rick Mueller who manages tools that measure crop conditions and soil moisture for the USDA. “It’s just a really hard cycle that we’ve been going through now.” Major drought started in California around 2011, broke around 2018 and now it’s back again. “It’s a matter of farmers being able to adapt and react to the climate that’s around them.”
Short term price increases, long term food supply risks
According to the letter, “There is little to no animal feed across much of the west, requiring farmers to import feed from out of state…Hay prices have skyrocketed, ranchers are selling off their livestock and others are considering selling prime agricultural lands for development.” The letter warns that drought could have long-term impacts on the food supply, wildlife, and livelihood of Americans in the West as these conditions persist.
As states lack resources to deal with drought and wildfires, among climate disasters of all kinds, national US disaster policy will need to reform. State lawmakers are asking the federal government to provide support beyond what is available through existing emergency programs.
Female Afghan Governor Opposed to the Taliban Reveals She Is Safe After Secret Escape
One of the three female district governors in Afghanistan, Salima Mazari, is telling her story after revealing that she has escaped the Taliban.
TIME reported in a piece published Tuesday that Mazari, who had been feared captured, is not only alive but was never taken into custody by the militant group. In fact, the reporters of the TIME piece say they assisted with her escape.
“Zakarya was based in Afghanistan but able to leave for Paris during the evacuation,” Zakarya Hassani and Robyn Huang write. “He kept in touch with Mazari after the Taliban seized power and she went into hiding. Together in a joint rescue effort by Afghans, Americans and Canadians, he helped to play a part in getting her to safety.”
Following the fall of Afghanistan in mid-August, as the U.S. military prepared to withdraw, stories circulated online suggesting that Mazari, who had been leading the fight against the Taliban in her area, had been captured after the group overtook her district of Charkint.
“If we don’t fight now against the extremist ideologies and the groups that force them on us, we will lose our chance to defeat them. They will succeed. They will brainwash society into accepting their agenda,” Mazari said earlier this year, adding, “I am not afraid. I believe in the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
As the the Taliban swept into Kabul in August, Mazari went quiet and fears for her spread.
According to TIME, this is what happened:
Everything changed when Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city, fell on Aug. 14. After ordering her men to stand down, Mazari told TIME, she fled to the Uzbekistan border but was turned away.
So she headed back to Mazar-i-Sharif, staying at numerous safe houses along the way.
Mazari first informed Hassani, one of the story’s reporters, that she was safe on Aug. 20. Hassani then relayed the message to Huang. Her partner, Canadian photojournalist Matt Reichel, was assisting others in escaping Afghanistan and agreed to help.
Reichel reportedly pressed contacts within the State Department and Department of Defense for assistance in bringing Mazari to safety.
“Eventually, one of my friends at the State Department, who wishes to remain unnamed, but has been instrumental in helping countless vulnerable Afghans escape, was able to forward her information to the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) and a high-level figure in the Secretary of State’s office,” Reichel told the TIME authors. “This individual replied within hours offering help.”
Later that evening, according to the magazine, Mazari and 13 of her family members made their way to the rescue point, where they were to be helicoptered over to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and evacuated the following day.
The plan was a success: Mazari and her family were transported to Qatar on a U.S. military flight and are currently waiting for resettlement.
Though safe, Mazari told TIME that she remains concerned for her fellow Afghans. “I saw families fleeing and leaving everything behind … It was difficult to see my people in that situation. Everyone I spoke to is dealing with the weight of sadness on their shoulders.”
“I have cried a lot,” she added. “I have thought about all those youth who were sacrificed in the past 20 years for the evils of politics. I thought about the aspirations of a generation that are heading towards destruction. I feel a lump in my throat when thinking of my people and fellow soldiers’ struggles, sacrifices and deaths. Every time I think of these things, I feel like I am dying.”