It's been one month since the climate movement won a significant delay on the Keystone XL pipeline. Since then, the oil industry and their political and media backers have gotten increasingly desperate:
- Oil companies tried to ram a vote on Keystone through the U.S. Senate. Last week, that effort collapsed in disarray and finger-pointing among the fossil fuel industry's biggest political boosters.
- TransCanada, the Canadian company behind Keystone, even resorted to threats to sue the U.S. government under NAFTA. Early this month, they were forced to disavow that outrageous tactic.
- Pro-Keystone commentators are truly grasping at straws, including claiming that President Obama is delaying a decision to pave the way for a government takeover of the energy sector,1 and arguing that it's the poor, under-resourced oil industry—and not the environmental movement—that’s the real underdog in the fight over the pipeline.2
These bottom-of-the-barrel tactics signal that fossil fuel corporations will do anything to avoid facing up to the view that one prominent analyst voiced this month: "We have been of the opinion for nearly a year now that Keystone XL is dead."3This delay means another year that tar sands oil stays in the ground, instead of flowing through the pipeline. This delay is another nail in the coffin of this disastrous project. And you—the incredible grassroots tide of resolve and determination—are the ones who made this happen.
Keystone would have been just another routine dirty energy infrastructure project if not for public pressure—like the unprecedented 2.5 million public comments submitted into the approvals process. People all along the pipeline route, from Alberta to the Gulf Coast—especially Indigenous communities and farming communities—mobilized against the project.
Another key factor has been the threat of massive civil disobedience if President Obama approves the pipeline—one veteran environmental campaigner called it the "sharpest arrow in the quiver" of the Keystone opposition movement. Almost 100,000 people signed Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, committing to take direct action if the administration lights the fuse of the continent’s biggest carbon bomb.
So while we're proud that the movement won a major delay, the struggle is far from over. Here at Rainforest Action Network, we're staying vigilant on Keystone. We're continuing to hone the cutting edge of the climate movement by training committed activists. And we're taking fast, strategic action to block dirty energy deals.
Thank you for all you've done.
1. “Obama Blocks Keystone To Start Energy Takeover,” Investor’s Business Daily, May 13, 2014 (http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-perspective/051314-700702-obama-wants-energy-markets-fossil-fuels-under-government-heel.htm)
2. “Mainstream media don't know Big Green has deeper pockets than Big Oil,” Washington Examiner, May 13, 2014 (http://washingtonexaminer.com/mainstream-media-dont-know-big-green-has-deeper-pockets-than-big-oil/article/2548405)
3. “The Keystone Pipeline is Quickly Becoming Obsolete,” Business Insider, May 7, 2014 (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-keystone-pipeline-is-quickly-becoming-obsolete-2014-5)
This week a double tragedy has struck the coal mining industry.
On Monday night in West Virginia, a coal outburst at a Patriot-operated mine killed two miners. And on Tuesday an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Western Turkey killed at least 245, with hundreds more still missing.
Our hearts and minds are with the miners and their families.
These disasters underscore the horrific cost of “cheap” and dirty energy. Miners’ deaths such as these are preventable. We call on coal companies to immediately improve labor conditions, and on the governments of Turkey and the United States to strengthen their regulatory oversight of the coal industry.
At the same time, here at Rainforest Action Network, we are reflecting on the less noticed human cost of coal. Every year, more than one million people die of the air pollution that comes from burning coal. 150,000 more die from the extreme weather events aggravated by climate change–and coal is the single biggest driver of global warming.
All of this points to an obvious conclusion. We must not continue to make these sacrifices in order to produce energy from such a dirty and unsustainable source. Coal is a dangerous and outdated fuel, and in the 21st century we should not be using it to power our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It is past time for us to shift our energy production to clean, safe renewable power.
Last week, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. In the next two weeks, we'll be posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal -- and come clean on climate change.
My name is Elise Keaton. I am the Executive Director of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and I am from southern West Virginia. I currently live in Charleston, West Virginia. I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.
On January 9 of this year, I came home from work, poured a big glass of water from my tap and drank it. As soon as I set my glass down I received a text message from my landlord stating, “Don’t drink the water! There has been a chemical leak!”
Over the next hours, I experienced acute symptoms from exposure to the coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), including irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and stomach cramps. If the spill had been immediately lethal, I thought, the authorities would have sounded the chemical valley alarms. So I monitored my symptoms and concluded that I did not need to go to the emergency room that night. I figured that the next day, we would know more about what had happened.
What we learned over the next week was that a Freedom Industries facility storing coal-processing chemicals leaked MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 households. The first question a thinking human being should ask is, “Why are 300,000 households, spread across nine counties in a rural state like West Virginia on a single water source in the city of Charleston?”
The answer is: their local water sources have already been compromised by the mining industry. Their streams and springs have been destroyed or buried by mountaintop removal. Their wells have been compromised by blasting or polluted by coal slurry injections.
And instead of addressing the sources of this pollution, the political-industrial establishment in West Virginia decided that your quarterly profits were more important than clean water for our communities and they answered that loss of water by extending the municipal water source further and further out into those counties.
Four months later, we still lack access to guaranteed safe drinking water in West Virginia. Our esteemed congresspeople have insisted that they are drinking the water. But no public health official has declared the water safe to drink.
I am 34 years old and I am getting married this summer. I've waited a long time to start my family. Now, I have postponed my plans to have children indefinitely because no one can tell me the impact MCHM may have had on me and my reproductive ability.
I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community. The minuscule profits you received as a result of mountaintop removal mining are incomparable to the catastrophic damage caused by the practice. It is killing us.
More than 20 peer-reviewed health studies have shown that living near mountaintop removal sites is deadly for the people of Appalachia. Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.
I will close with this: when you remove coal by blowing up a mountain to extract it you have destroyed a “water maker” for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of electricity for the United States. Let me repeat that. When you extract coal by mountaintop removal you kill a resource that will make water forever -- for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of energy for the U.S. How is that a good investment?
As shareholders of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you are savvy investors and business minded individuals. How is destroying the mountains that create clean water for a very small, short term financial benefit a good investment? Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and our communities. Your profits from mountaintop removal mean death for us.
Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal -- and come clean on climate change.
Last week, Bank of America (BofA) admitted a huge accounting error—for several years, it claimed a whopping $4 billion more in capital than it actually has. The day BofA announced its blunder, its shares closed down more than six percent, the stock’s biggest drop in two years.
But BofA had to come clean. Regulators, shareholders and consumers need an accurate picture of banks' balance sheets.
BofA’s admission gives us a rare chance to raise a far bigger question: What else are they hiding?
It's time for BofA to be transparent about something much more vital to the future of the planet: just how much its investments contribute to climate change.
I'm writing to you from BofA's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I'm about to speak in support of a crucial shareholder resolution. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility—backed by investors worth almost $35 billion—is pushing the bank to report on how much carbon pollution gets spewed into the atmosphere by the companies it funds.
BofA is a top funder of the biggest drivers of climate change: coal, oil, and gas corporations, as well as carbon–intensive electricity producers. But it's refusing to report on its financed carbon emissions. BofA knows that opening its books will create pressure to cut emissions by moving away from fossil fuels.
Now is the time to push BofA on climate change. Last week's accounting revelations were a big black eye, and at today's AGM, the bank needs to reassure its shareholders and customers that it doesn't have billions of dollars of climate liabilities on its books.
Pushing for transparency is just the first step. We're also calling on BofA to cut its carbon pollution by stopping funding coal, the top contributor to climate change. I'll be making that call here at the AGM in just a few minutes, and ally organizations will speak to coal's cost beyond climate: mountains with their tops blown off in West Virginia, rivers wrecked by coal ash here in North Carolina, and human rights abuses by coal company security forces in Colombia.
This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.
The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change. Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.
Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.
The implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.
On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.
To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.
Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.
Co-authored by Sima Atri, Benjamin Franta, Sidni Frederick, Ted Hamilton, Jacob Lipton, Chloe Maxmin, Brett Roche, Kelsey Skaggs, Henney Sullivan, Tyler VanValkenburg, Jacob Lipton, Zoë Onion, Olivia Kivel, and Canyon Woodward on behalf of Divest Harvard. This op-ed originally appeared on Stacy Clark's blog on Huffington Post.
This morning we began blocking the main entrance to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard University President Drew Faust and other top administrators. We are here to demand an open and transparent dialogue with the Harvard Corporation—Harvard's main governing body—on fossil fuel divestment. To date, President Faust and Harvard University have rejected the case for divestment and refused to engage in public dialogue about divestment and climate change. Alongside the 72% of Harvard undergraduates and 67% of Harvard Law students, as well as the students, faculty, and alumni of Divest Harvard, we refuse to accept our university's unwillingness to hold a public meeting on this critical issue.
We are here today because we believe in a better Harvard. We are here because it is our duty to act. We are here today because it is our moral responsibility as students to ensure that Harvard does not contribute to and profit from the problem but instead aligns its institutional actions and policies with the shared interests of society.
We take this action with the conviction that Harvard can, must, and will be a leader in responding to the climate crisis. We owe it to the world's less fortunate and future generations to lead the way to a livable planet.
Human-made climate change is already severely disrupting weather patterns and causing misery to those most vulnerable to the effects of drought, flooding, and famine. Despite the universal acknowledgment by scientists and world governments that drastic action is needed to address this problem, we continue to extract and burn carbon energy sources at an accelerating rate.
Unless we act swiftly to restructure our economy and to end our consumption of fossil fuels, the planet faces catastrophic disturbances in the very near future. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we have less than 15 years to overhaul our energy economy, is the latest recognition that the time for bold and courageous action is upon us.
Harvard enjoys a privileged position. It is a global leader in research, thought, and policy, and its alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. Harvard has the moral authority to break the stranglehold of passivity when our governments are unable or unwilling to address climate change's impending menace. And even if Harvard were not a prominent institution, the moral imperative still exists to stop profiting from damage done to others. The fact that Harvard chooses to calculate profit from corporate activities that push damages onto others—including ourselves and our children—is intolerable, ultimately unsustainable, and must stop.
Harvard's divestment from the fossil fuel industry will accomplish two important goals. First, it will allow Harvard to retain the moral integrity of an institution purporting to care about a livable future. Today the Harvard community profits from fossil fuel investments because the true costs of oil, coal, and gas are borne by other communities. Communities close to extraction sites are being robbed of their health and communities on the frontlines of climate disasters are being robbed of their lives and cultures. Younger generations, including Harvard's own students, are being robbed of a chance at a livable future. It is unconscionable and illogical for us to continue supporting an industry that violates basic human values and the fundamental purpose of our own institution.
Second, divestment will send a strong message that our society can no longer tolerate business as usual with the fossil fuel industry. The corrupt political practices and shameful climate denial peddled by gas, oil, and coal companies have stood in the way of proactive energy policies for far too long. Harvard's wealth and influence bring with them a special responsibility to act, and this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
As the university demonstrated when it divested from tobacco and partially divested from Apartheid, Harvard's endowment can be put into alignment with shared values. We are not asking our university to inject politics into its finances: we are asking it to stop sponsoring and profiting from climate change. By investing in fossil fuel companies, Harvard itself is responsible for their behavior. President Faust's recent announcement that Harvard will sign onto the non-binding Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project implicitly recognizes that the university cannot ignore its social responsibility when it comes to its investments and climate change.
As over one hundred Harvard faculty argued in their letter to President Faust earlier this month, it is far too late for business as usual and statements to continue that do not commit the university to action. The governing Corporation's refusal to hold an open meeting on the issue of divestment—as well as the President's recent denial that fossil fuel companies prevent political action on global warming and a Corporation member's suggestion that Harvard students thank BP for its energy practices—betray a disconcerting lack of understanding and urgency with respect to the impending risk of climate disaster.
We stand in solidarity with students and activists around the world who are raising their voices to demand that our institutions and leaders reject the carbon economy and begin aggressive action toward a greener future. We welcome members of the Harvard community and the public to our peaceful gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall. And we invite President Faust and the Harvard Corporation to join us in an open and transparent meeting to discuss the divestment of Harvard's endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
The world, and Harvard as part of it, cannot wait any longer.
- Coal Mining. For over forty years, coal companies have strip-mined Appalachia for the last remaining seams of coal while ending the power of organized labor by reducing workforces through mechanization. The regulation of strip-mining opened up loopholes that allowed coal companies to literally explode the tops off of mountains. To date over 500 mountains have been destroyed by mountaintop removal. Countless creeks, rivers and other water sources have been poisoned. And thousands of people have been exposed to the worst effects of dirty air and dirty water from mountaintop removal. In the interior west, Big Coal is further mining huge coal reserves in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
- Natural gas and fracking. For the past decade we've seen the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which stimulates wells drilled into gas and coal-bed methane. This process has had a huge human impact and created a toxic legacy on the environmental landscape as well as local community health. Large-scale fracking operations are spreading across North America.
- Oil infrastructure. The biggest environmental fight since the forest wars of the 1990s has manifested around the Keystone XL pipeline. But Keystone XL is only the beginning as Big Oil is building a network of pipelines throughout Canada and the United States. Spills and leaks are growing concerns as Big Oil weaves this spider web of death and destruction across the continent.
- Fossil fuel exports. The coasts are also becoming hot spots of attention as dozens of oil, gas and coal proposals are on the table in the Pacific Northwest and a fight is growing over a fracked-gas export terminal on Chesapeake Bay. Industry doesn’t just want to use mined and fracked fossil fuels for domestic energy production, they also want to export dirty fuels for big profits to Europe and Asia.
2013 went down as the driest year in California’s recorded history. A major reservoir outside of Sacramento has been reduced from 83% to 36% capacity in just over 2 years. In the Central Valley, 1,200 square miles of land is sinking at a rate of 11 inches a year from the drilling of groundwater. And the annual measure of the Sierra Nevada snowmelt done every April 1st indicates that the end isn’t in sight.
In this time of drought, we are often encouraged to reduce our water intake by taking fewer and shorter showers, and to not water our lawns and wash our cars. But is that where we Californians use a majority of our water? Surprisingly, an upwards of 80% of our developed water supply (water designated for human use) goes towards agriculture. Some of it to grow tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes… but most of it goes to alfalfa.
Why alfalfa? Because alfalfa is what we feed dairy cows and beef cattle. This crop drinks up more of our water than any other, and is used to sustain the 5.25 million cows that call California home. Alfalfa isn’t just used on factory farms and dairies, it’s also used as a filler on grass-fed, pastured cows.
So how much water do we use to produce a plant we don’t eat, to fatten cows for an environmentally destructive diet we don’t really need?
According to a study by Mekonnen and Hoekstra, it takes 1700 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, 660 gallons of water for one pound of pork, and 264 gallons of water for one pound of chicken. The University of California Alfalfa Workgroup states it takes 683 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.
This isn’t an isolated incident here in California. As climate change increases and our water sources dry up, we are seeing this play out all over the world. However, we have an easy fix at our fingertips. By reducing our meat intake by half, we reduce our water footprint by 30%. But why stop there? Switch to a plant-based diet and you’ll be reducing it by over 60%.
In the spirit of Earth Day, let’s look for new innovative ways to sustain the planet and those we share it with - let’s cut the bull and eat a plant-based diet.
Last week the former governor of Riau province in Sumatra, the epicenter of deforestation in Indonesia, was sentenced to 14 years in prison by Indonesia’s anti corruption court for taking bribes for illegally issuing logging permits to nine suppliers of APRIL’s Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper and APP’s Indah Kiat mills. This conviction follows similar convictions of Riau’s Palalawan and Siak district regents (Bupatis).
This week a diverse and influential civil society network called the “anti forest-mafia coalition” released an in depth and ground breaking analysis of the Indonesian “Forest Legality Verification System” (SVLK) finding flaws in the SVLK standard and its application and detailing sweeping changes required for the system to be credible and contribute to improved forest governance in Indonesia.
The SVLK timber legality assurance system comes out of an agreement between the EU and Indonesian governments aimed at improving forest governance and ensuring that Indonesian forest products are produced, harvested and shipped in compliance with the laws and regulations of Indonesia. SLVK certification is intended to assure forest products (wood, paper, etc.) customers and trading partner governments that products are legal and to secure access to foreign markets. In Europe, the intention is that SVLK certified products gain automatic access to the market. In the US, SVLK certification will not provide a guarantee that forest products imported into the US will meet the requirements of the Lacey Act.
Nevertheless, Indonesian forest product companies like APRIL and their customers are already promoting their SVLK certification and hoping that SVLK will fulfill the due diligence requirements of the Lacey Act. However, given systemic governance problems and recent revelations from Indonesia, such assertions are premature. In fact, the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report, and the long list of forest crime cases being considered by Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK) suggests that the Riau former governor’s crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. The Riau convictions and the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report are a wake up call for governments, customers and investors alike. Forest governance in Indonesia and the SVLK certification system still have a long way to go before they can provide confidence in the rule of law or any assurance that it is being implemented and enforced.
The message to customers, investors and importing governments in the EU, Japan, China, the US and around the world is that Indonesian forest products are rife with legal risks and links to corruption and that the current SVLK system does not provide adequate assurance that products are legal or produced in an environmentally or socially responsible manner.
The message to the Indonesian government and producers is that they must tackle corruption, improve forest governance, laws and enforcement and revamp the SVLK standard and its implementation if they are to be trusted and preferred in the international marketplace.
Encouragingly, there is good news that Indonesians and the international community alike can take heart in and support amidst these sobering reports.
First, the Riau prosecutions themselves demonstrate the importance and success of Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK), an institution that is repeatedly demonstrating its integrity, veracity and worth in the face of significant opposition from many powerful interests that it threatens. And second, last week, perhaps the nation’s most well known and important political reformer for clean and improved government and the rule of law, Joko Widodo (or Jokowi as most know him), officially announced his candidacy as presidential candidate in the upcoming elections in July.