Crucial conflicts: not-so-natural disasters, food justice, and the end of the carbon economy

This is the second in a series of posts intended to highlight the most important environmental justice-related news. The goal is both to provide updates and critical commentary on what’s happening in the world right now. No need to read the news, but if you want to explore further, we provide the links.


If you haven’t read it already, you must check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” Not only is it a narrative masterpiece, it deftly juggles issues of race, housing, environmental justice, land-grabbing, and ecological debt. This is perhaps the best journalism piece of the year.

A government of thugs: How Canada is viewing environmentalists as extremists and limiting investigative journalism.


“Natural” disasters

In Turkey, miners were pitted against the government in a week of furious face-offs after the worst mining disaster the country has ever seen.

If you hadn’t heard,  floods in the Balkans caused terrible destruction. In the Guardian, Srecko Horvat discusses the role of the state in enabling these disasters:  “In these times, there is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’. The “natural disaster” is always enabled by social factors.”

ThinkProgress featured a horrifying piece about the effects that a chemical spill in West Virginia last January had on local jail inmates. This is truly the intersection of environmental justice and the prison-industrial complex. Again, natural disasters seem to compound social ones.

How El Niño might affect the political climate.

Oil spills in the U.S. increased  by 17% in 2013.



There’s a new strategy out there against climate catastrophe: insurance. The New York Times discusses the possibilities in buying insurance. A farmers insurance company is sueing the local state for failing to prepare for climate change. Grist explains the significance of this kind of lawsuit. ThinkProgress asks with tongue-in-cheek whether climate change deniers will keep buying coastal property.

To prevent the destruction of Congo’s forests, the Minister of Environment asks for $1 billion. “As a developing country we require a partnership with industrialized nations to provide the financial support needed [to stop deforestation].” UNESCO demands an end to oil drilling in Virunga National Park. Meanwhile, Ecuador finally gives up on its Yasuni ITT project to preserve its rainforests and signs permits for oil drilling.

Friends of the Earth launched a campaign blaming Shell in causing a carbon bubble and accusing them of hiding their money in Swiss banks. Shell actually responded.

Oxfam aims a report at the 10 largest food and beverage companies, calling on them to address climate change.

In Canada, politicians are finally accusing the ruling party of human rights violations, perpetrated by Canadian mines in Colombia. Canadians are calling for an end to human rights abuses as well. This is important, since victims of these abuses often can’t do anything to make Canadian mining companies accountable, only Canadians can. Vice published a spotlight on one Canadian activist.


Two thought-provoking pieces on labour: the problems with work from a feminist perspective at New Left Review. David Graeber on “bullshit jobs” and the revolution: ” I’m thinking of a labor movement, but one very different than the kind we’ve already seen. A labor movement that manages to finally ditch all traces of the ideology that says that work is a value in itself, but rather redefines labor as caring for other people.”

An incredible piece calling for an alliance between environmental and labour movements.

piece by Joan Martínez Alier on the state of extractivism and anti-exctractivist movements, particularly in South America. A critical response to the whole extractivism debate by Federico Fuentes, with a great discussion in the comments section.

Maude Barlow discusses a new “water ethic” in the context of rampant water grabbing.

Water has rights too, outside its usefulness to humans. Water belongs to the earth and other species. Our belief in “unlimited growth” and our treatment of water as tool for industrial development have put the earth‘s watersheds in jeopardy. Water is not a resource for our convenience, pleasure and profit, but rather the essential element in a living ecosystem.


Indigenous rights

In Brazil, indigenous protesters face off against the police. Source: Indian Country Today

In Brazil, indigenous protesters face off against the police. Source: Indian Country Today

Neoliberalism’s assault on indigenous autonomy, from the perspective of the Zapatista movement. (also: Subcommandante Marcos is resigning).

Photos of Amazon chiefs’ clash with Brazilian police at World Cup protests.

In Texas, indigenous people are fighting against the enormous Mexico-U.S. fence. To do this, they’re appealing to the United Nations. It’s strange how the U.S. defends its land from foreigners, who in many cases have more claim to it than any settler. But then again, as we can see in Israel, colonialism always needs walls against the indigenous.

A unique interactive infographic explaining human rights violations of indigenous communities in Latin America.

Canada’s indigenous genocide.

B’laan indigenous people in the Philipines are under threat from an open-cast copper and gold mine.

Inuit in Northern Canada speak up against a ban on seal hunting by the EU, upheld by the WTO.

An introduction to free, prior, and informed consent.

The race for oil and Ecuador’s indigenous people.

Bolivia was important this week. An inspiring interview of Nilda Rojas about Conamaq, the anti-Morales, anti-mining indigenous movement. An excellent analysis by Isabella Radhuber and Diego Andreucci about the situation.


The end is nigh… for fossil fuels?

This graph shows how much less carbon emissions there would be if there were no fossil fuel subsidies. Source:

This graph shows how much less carbon emissions there would be if there were no fossil fuel subsidies. Source:

Using never-seen-before models, a professor at Laval University highlights the how carbon subsidies negatively affect GDP growth and ending them would help address climate change.

An intriguing analysis by Kurt Cobb over at Resource Insights, where he argues that the discovery of shale oil and gas doesn’t actually mean that we are never running out of oil. Instead, as seen from new evidence downgrading the potential of these resources, it is symptomatic of the continuing decline in availability of fossil fuels, spelling the demise of a carbon economy.

A blog piece connecting oil prices, debt, and interest rates, asking if oil is really “just another commodity” and arguing that “what really pumps up the economy is a rising supply of cheap oil.”

Citigroup came out with a series of reports charting the decline in coal.

A new energy report by the IEA forecasts a decline in North American oil supply.


Food justice

What the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership means for our food: Read about it here, here, here, and here.

Olivier de Schutter ends his time as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. During his time, he really shook things up. A job well done.

Julie Guthman outlines what she thinks is the problem with the current discussion about obesity. Instead of blaming cheap food and high calories, she chooses to look at environmental toxins, stress, and capitalism.

What we have, in effect, is a political economy of bulimia. Unfettered capitalism has generated many of the food qualities, built environments, and chemical exposures associated with obesogenesis. At the same time, it has made available for investment and marketing many, but by no means all manner of solutions to problems it has generated. As such, the body has become a site where capitalism’s inherent growth problems are literally embodied — at a significant cost to our psyches as much as our health.

A wicked report by GRAIN on the state of small farmers today:

  1. The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller
  2. Small farms are currently squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world’s farmland
  3. We are fast losing farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger
  4. Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world
  5. Small farms are overall more productive than big farms
  6. Most small farmers are women

Sustainable food means more than organic or local production. It also requires non-exploitative working conditions for restaurant workers. This is incredibly important, arguably the key to fast food’s success wasn’t efficiency in the production line but the busting of unions and instability of labour that came along with them. This piece documents some of the successes of ROC-United in mobilizing around justice for restaurant workers in the United States.

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