The West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant after the explosion. Photo: Occupy.com
Eleven states filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and its chief, Scott Pruitt, in federal court on Monday over the agency’s decision to postpone implementation of a rule aimed at lessening the risk of a chemical plant disaster such as the deadly one that rocked West, Texas in 2013.
“Protecting our workers, first-responders, and communities from chemical accidents should be something on which we all agree. Yet the Trump EPA continues to put special interests before the health and safety of the people they serve,” said New York Attorney General Schneiderman, who’s leading the lawsuit. Continue reading →
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil when the company violated U.S. sanctions against Russian officials in 2014. (Photo: Greenpeace/PolluterWatch)
“It’s time Rex Tillerson step down or be removed,” said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International, following an announcement on Thursday that ExxonMobil will pay $2 million for violating U.S. sanctions against Russian officials while the now-secretary of state was the company’s CEO.
“ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanction requirements,” according to enforcement filing released by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which issued the penalty. Though the fine is reportedly the maximum penalty allowed, it’s pittance to one of the world’s most profitable and powerful corporations, which last year reported a profit of $7.8 billion. Continue reading →
If “large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue[…] the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear,” the researchers write. (Photo: Takver/flickr/cc)
The “shit is hitting is the fan,” said noted climate scientist James Hansen, countering “this narrative out there…that we have turned the corner on dealing with the climate problem.”
Hansen is lead author of a new study that warns that there “is no time to delay” on climate change efforts and argues that they must go beyond just slashing emissions of CO2—”the dominant control knob on global temperature”—to extracting CO2 from the air, or “negative emissions.”
The team of international researchers writes that “the world has overshot appropriate targets”—a conclusion that “is sufficiently grim to compel us to point out that pathways to rapid emission reductions are feasible.” Continue reading →
The Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to humanitarian aid programs in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. (Photo: Gerry & Bonni/Flickr/cc)
The vast majority of Americans are “oblivious” to the fact that more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
A “staggering” 85 percent of Americans simply don’t know that these nations are facing such dire shortages of food and other necessary resources, IRC discovered. Continue reading →
The Colorado River, one of the longest rivers in the United States, is gradually shrinking. This is partly a result of overuse by municipalities and seasonal drought. The other reason is global warming.
The decline in the river reservoir will have serious implications for large U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, that depend on the Colorado River as their water source. In addition, this will also have an impact on the Native American tribes who view the Colorado River as sacred to their religions.
As Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and a graduate student working to address climate change on the Colorado River and restoring native plant species along its banks, stated,
“The Colorado River is so sacred not just to my tribe, but to so many others.”
As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices.
Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.
Adapting to change
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana brought changes in their relationship with the natural world as a result of the policies of the U.S. government from the 1880s to the 1930s.
For example, the Blackfeet purposefully moved religious ceremonies from one time on their liturgical calendar to completely different times to avoid the U.S. government penalizing native people for dancing or participating in religious ceremonies.
The Blackfeet moved their annual O’kan, or sundance festival, from late summer (usually held at the end of August) to the Fourth of July celebration. They avoided U.S. government punishment by masking their ceremonies within state-sanctioned public events.
Policies related to the mining of natural resources and damming of rivers on indigenous lands have also led to changes in Native Americans’ religious practices.
Historian David R. M. Beckinterviewed elders and researched how the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin adapted to the loss of their sacred fish, the sturgeon, after a paper mill built a dam across the Wolf River.
The sturgeon disappeared after the dam was built in 1892, because they could no longer swim upstream to spawn. For over 100 years, the Menominee tribal members continued to pray and conduct their annual “returning of the sturgeon” ceremony in the spring – even though there were no more sturgeon in the river. The Menominee ultimately won the right to return the sturgeon to the Wolf River in 1992 and the tribe revitalized the full ceremony and celebration of their sacred fish.
In all these situations, Native American tribes learned to adapt to the challenges placed before them, modify their religious practice and embrace a different relationship with the natural world.
Global warming and religion
When it comes to global climate change, it affects everyone, not just specific groups in specific places. But for many indigenous peoples, natural resources are closely linked to religious beliefs and practices.
Historically, indigenous peoples used the natural seasonal cycles of weather, plants and animals as part of their liturgical or religious calendar. The Blackfeet held their annual “beaver bundle ceremony” in the early spring as ice melted off rivers and beavers returned to the open waters. In Blackfeet mythology, a beaver served as a deity who taught humans how to cultivate tobacco, which the tribe used for important religious ceremonies and as a peace offering to their enemies.
There are signs, though, that beavers are now moving north due to global warming. Biologists are currently studying both beavers and the birch and alder shrubs
that beavers eat, as both move north into new regions. Scientists worry that as a keystone species, the movement of beavers will change the northern ecosystems as they cut off waterways and build beaver dams. And shrubs will change the local waterways that they grow by. This will affect local animal species.
What will happen when there are no more beaver in Blackfeet territory? Will their religious traditions adapt similar to the Menominee when they faced the loss of their sacred sturgeon?
Religion and resiliency
From the arctic tundra to the American desert southwest, and places worldwide, indigenous peoples will be facing the impact of global climate change.
Regarding the shrinking of the Colorado River, researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeckhave concluded that, “Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River basin will continue to dry up into the future.”
If this river faces a drier future, it will likely affect the Mojave, a people indigenous to the Colorado River basin, who believe the river was created by their ancient deity Mastamho as part of their sacred landscape.
As the G-20 convenes in Germany this week to discuss global issues including climate change, indigenous scholars, such as myself, are wondering what the future holds for indigenous peoples, their environments and their religions.
Indigenous communities can be resilient and adapt their internal religious beliefs to outside challenges, as Native American tribes from the turn of the 20th century have proven. Climate change presents yet another challenge.
“We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives,” Jakeline (right), who has received death threats for protesting mining in Colombia, told Global Witness for the report. (Photo: Global Witness)
Last year was the deadliest in history to be an environmental activist, according to a new report that found, on average, nearly four people were killed per week.
Defenders of the Earth, released by U.K.-based human rights group Global Witness, lists the names and locations of 200 environmental advocates who were killed around the world. While the report found Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines were the nations with the most murdered environmentalists in 2016, Honduras has been the deadliest country for environmental activists over the last decade. Continue reading →
Rex Tillerson. Photo: premier.gov.ru [CC BY 4.0) , via Wikimedia Commons
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—a former CEO of the world’s largest oil company—is under fire on Monday for setting aside his diplomatic duties on Sunday to accept a lifetime achievement award from the World Petroleum Congress is Istanbul, Turkey.
“Secretary Tillerson’s warped notion that it’s appropriate to attend and accept an award at an oil industry conference proves yet again that he has no idea how to be the United States’ chief diplomat,” said Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner Naomi Ages. Continue reading →
“The ban treaty is the start of a new worldwide movement that gives the United States an opportunity to break from its self-destructive nuclear weapons policy,” said Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. (Photo: Lamerie/flickr/cc)
The United States has joined a small group of global outliers on Friday after a historic United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons was adopted by a majority of the world’s nations.
“The adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty marks an historic turning point in the centuries-old battle to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction,” said Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Continue reading →
The EPA’s intended rollback of the Clean Water Rule could impact the drinking water of 117 million Americans. (MajJar/Flickr/cc)
Stirring criticism from environmental groups, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that the Trump administration will take steps to roll back the Clean Water Rule, the Obama-era regulation that grants clear protections to America’s waterways and drinking water supplies.
The Clean Water Rule requires oil companies to develop oil spill prevention and response plans, demands that states identify and develop plans to clean up protected waters that don’t meet standards, and bans companies from dumping waste into protected waters, among other provisions. Continue reading →
From January 1 to August 2, the world’s 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth’s biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. Photo by freemixer / iStock.
Four days after President Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on August 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.
The basic point is quite simple: From January 1 to August 2, the world’s 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth’s biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth’s reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests, and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere. Continue reading →