Mud Wizard Monday: Serving corporate interests leaves German police stuck in the muck

So you probably haven’t heard about this, but it turns out that the climate is warming because of human activity. There are a number of factors, but the biggest one is carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas. Given that this temperature increase is already causing problems worldwide, and it’s expected to cause exponentially more problems as the warming continues, humanity needs to stop burning coal, oil, and gas, and use other sources of energy like solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, and so on. I felt the need to spell that out, because judging by the behavior of most of the world’s governments, it’s not clear that the people in charge are aware.

The U.S. is where I tend to focus, of course, but China is increasing its use of coal, and Germany, despite committing to end coal use within the next eight years, is now fighting to demolish a village to expand a coal mine:

Activists have for the past two years attempted to protect the village from being bulldozed to make way for the opencast lignite mine, in a standoff that highlights the tensions around Germany’s climate policy.

Environmentalists say bulldozing Luetzerath would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, but the government and RWE say coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security.

It always comes down to some form of “security”, doesn’t it? I understand the concerns folks in Europe have about nuclear power, especially if we’re focused on older reactor models, but I don’t know that coal is any better. Certainly, the potential risks from disaster and war are less, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good option, especially given that fully “exploiting” the expansion would take until 2045, 15 years after Germany will supposedly have phased out coal power. I should be clear – it has apparently been a couple years since the town has had residents who are not there specifically to obstruct coal mine expansion. That said, while evicting people from their homes for this would certainly add incentive to stop it, the fact remains that we cannot afford to keep extracting and burning coal like this, given that climate change is already killing and displacing people.

It’s good that wealthy nations are making any progress at all, I suppose, but it’s nowhere near enough.

And so people are using the one thing that people reliably have – they’re putting their bodies between the ruling class and the object of their destructive greed. It seems unlikely, to me, that these protesters will get their way, but as with so many other things, I hope to be wrong about that. It’s encouraging to see thousands of people showing up to stand against the German police for all our sakes.

“I’m really afraid today,” Petra Mueller, a 53-year-old local who had been at the site for several days, said from a top-floor window of one of the few remaining houses. Mueller said she still held out hope of preserving what is left of Luetzerath “until nothing is left standing; hope dies last”.

Environmentalists say bulldozing the village to expand the nearby Garzweiler coal mine would result in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The government and utility company RWE argue that coal is needed to ensure Germany’s energy security.

However, a study by the German Institute for Economic Research calls into question the government’s stance. Its authors found other existing coal fields could be used instead, though the cost to RWE would be greater.

Another alternative would be for Germany to increase the production of renewable power, cut demand through energy efficiency measures, or import more coal or gas from abroad, the study found.

This is the point that climate activists have been making for decades. It has long been obvious that when it comes to “energy security”, and issues of war and politics in general, climate change is a “threat multiplier”. It creates resource scarcity, causes mass movement of people, and damages or disrupts infrastructure, all of which can lead to political instability. The advantage of carbon-neutral power has always been that its use doesn’t contribute to the climate problem. The advantage of things like solar and wind power is that they’re generally more resilient to climate chaos than power generation that depends on burning fuel to boil water to run a steam turbine. Dependence on oil and gas has long driven war all around the globe, and it’s a bit much for the German government to plead “security” now after decades of delayed action. To be sure, they’ve done more than the U.S., but that’s a low bar to step over, and not a standard I’m willing to accept.

If there was a genuine concern about security, rather than profits, they would have put far more work into renewable energy and next-gen nuclear power, rather than spending all these resources trying to expand a coal mine that, supposedly, won’t even be halfway to fully exploited when Germany supposedly will stop using coal. Or, just a thought, they’re not serious about meeting the 2030 mark.

Maybe they are, but I think it’s entirely reasonable for the protesters to doubt them.

I give full support to these protesters, and I’ve been delighted to see some of the footage that has come from this effort to oust them. See, while I’ll spare you any (further) porcine comparisons, it has been a treat to watch the armed and uniformed enforcers of fossil fuel interests rolling around in the muck while being mocked by a prancing mud wizard:

The image shows The Mud Wizard, dressed in a monastic habit, casting down the police who thought they would withstand the power of muck.

At risk of sounding too serious, I think there is validity to things that make cops look ridiculous, especially while they’re trying to use force to further business interests. I also want to underscore that while this video is very funny, the activists have also been setting themselves up in treehouses and wooden tripods, along with welded i-beam barricades and other bits of construction designed to make it as costly and difficult as possible for the corporations and cops to get what they want. The Garzweiler mine has equipment on hand that can make quick work of all of that stuff, but unless they want to commit mass murder, they can’t use any of it before removing the protesters.

And to remove protesters, they’re relying on the police.

I think that the act of using force to enable more coal mining, in the early stages of a global climate crisis (remember, it will get much, much worse without a change of course), is both evil, and inherently absurd. I’m sure the cops think they’re doing the right thing by just following orders, but I feel like we’ve had a lesson or two in why that’s not a great way to tell right from wrong. With a little luck, hopefully the powers that be will decide to accept a different world, rather than trying to escalate the violence to get their way, but in the meantime, we have mud wizards and Yakety Sax (It seems I can no longer embed Tweets properly, but I posted it below in case it starts working again. Thanks, Musk).

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If you want something to do this weekend, Atlanta forest defenders are asking for solidarity

I meant to write about this a couple days ago, but I just completely forgot about it until I sat down to go through my open tabs today. Still, better late than never, I guess? Last month I wrote about Atlanta forest defenders being arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism”, for the heinous act of sitting in trees that the cops wanted to cut down. The people working to stop the destruction of the Atlanta Forest for a massive, militarized police training facility are calling for demonstrations of solidarity around the country:

It’s Going Down has the following list of events being planned for this weekend, as of a day or two ago:

Roundup Of Solidarity Events

January 14th, Savannah, GA

Solidarity rally to defend the Atlanta Forest & Stop Cop City! Saturday, Jan 14 – 2pm – Wright Square. Atlanta is known to many as the “City in the Forest” for its extensive tree cover, which protects the city’s residents from flooding and extreme heat. Despite calls from residents to defund, demilitarize, and even abolish the police following the 2020 police killing of Rayshard Brooks, the Atlanta Police Foundation, Deklab County officials, and Blackhall (Shadowbox) Studios are attempting to bulldoze the city’s largest urban forest to build a militarized police training facility and Hollywood soundstage in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Brasfield & Gorrie LLC, the progect’s general contractor, has a construction site near Wright Square right here in Savannah. Amidst growing concerns of police violence and climate catastrophe, thousands of Atlanta residents have organized to protect the forest and stall construction of the facility for over a year! An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Let’s show our solidarity with ATL forest defenders and demand that Brasfield and Gorrie drop the contract! Savannah DSA

January 14th, Brooklyn, NYC

January 15th, New Haven, CT

January 15th, Atlanta, GA

January 16th, Decatur, GA

January 28th, NYC

As you’ll note, some of these things are not happening this weekend. While having a lot of actions happening on the same day is a tactic to get more attention on the issue, demonstrations and other events happening spontaneously over time and across the country can also serve that purpose. This is a long-term fight, not just because the backers of Cop City are still intending to build it, but also because even if we do win this fight, there will be new ones for as long as we’re dealing with a system like the one we’re fighting to change. If we ever want to have real democracy and freedom, it will require this kind of sustained effort both to create, and to maintain the world we want.

On that note, I also think you should check out this interview that the Youtuber F.D. Signifier did with commentator and activist Kamau Franklin about the issue:

As Franklin describes, “Cop City” is intended to have, among other facilities, 11 firing ranges, and a mock city for police to train in crowd control. As he says, this seems far more about general control of the populace and of any movements for change, than it is about any concern for public safety. It sure seems as though the police and ruling class looked at the BLM movement, and decided that they had to be able to just outright crush anything like that. It wouldn’t shock me to learn, down the road, that some of this is about the increasing popularity of left-wing thought and political tactics in the U.S.. Bolstering this interpretation is the fact that U.S. police often train with the enforcers of Israeli apartheid, working to develop tactics for controlling the population through force. With worsening inequality, rising fascism, and a warming climate, this should worry you, as should the ever-increasing U.S. military budget.

The movement towards authoritarianism is not unique to the Republican Party. The Democrats have been on board every step of the way, from pouring cash into the Pentagon, to developing the humanitarian nightmare that is the U.S. carceral system. It is Democratic mayor Eric Adams that wants to declare houseless people insane and lock them up. I don’t think the Dems are full-on fascist like the current GOP, but they do very clearly value capitalism more than democracy or freedom. They have been on board through the bloody history of U.S. interference with left-wing governments and movements around the globe. They have been on board with supporting the genocide being waged in Yemen, and the ethnic cleansing in Palestine. This is why we need organizing that’s separate from political parties and the electoral system. This is why we need direct action like the work of land and water defenders – because both parties in power serve the ruling class, and actively work to suppress working class power. It’s evident in Democratic policy over the years, in the people from whom they seek advice, and in the many corporations supporting the development of this facility, to the tune of $60 million of the $90 million budget.

And white supremacy is absolutely a part of that, both within the United States, and in its actions around the world.

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but the communities in which this monstrosity is being built are majority black, and have not been consulted on this project that will destroy a forest for the sake of building what amounts to a military training facility for the same cops who have been brutalizing and murdering black people in Atlanta and around the country. Kamau Franklin and F.D. Signifier have a much better discussion of the racial issues here than I’m able to summarize, so I recommend you watch the video. It provides a good overview of the problem from a systemic perspective. If you want to help out, Franklin pointed people to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, Community Movement Builders, and Stop Cop City, and even if you can’t do anything this weekend (sorry again for dropping the ball on this!), it still helps to get “stop cop city” in front of people, be it signs, bumper stickers, or you could even organize your own demonstrations just to get attention.

A new year, a new Brazilian president, and new hope for the Amazon

I’ve written before about the political situation in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro, a neofascist with ties to the old military dictatorship, ended up in power after a bogus corruption scandal and Bolsonaro’s soon-to-be Justice Minister put the most popular candidate in prison, so he was unable to run for office. Fortunately, that candidate, Lula da Silva was freed, and then won the next presidential election. While the man was in no way perfect, his previous time as president saw a great many people lifted from poverty, new rights and protections for Indigenous Brazilians, and for the Amazon Rainforest. There’s still very real concern about a coup attempt from Bolsonaro’s faction, but Lula will be sworn in as president this coming Sunday, and it looks like he intends to continue doing good things for Brazil, and for the world:

Environmentalists and rights advocates around the world are celebrating Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s selection of Marina Silva and Sônia Guajajara to serve as the nation’s environment and Indigenous ministers, respectively.


Several advocates throughout Brazil and beyond celebrated both appointments. Kenneth Roth, the former long-time executive director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, proclaimed that “Lula’s win was a win for the Amazon.”

Jennifer Morgan—who earlier this year stepped down as Greenpeace International’s executive director to serve as special envoy for international climate action in the German Foreign Ministry—also congratulated and celebrated both women on Twitter.

“The world is fortunate to have you in this critical position at this key moment of history,” Morgan said of Silva. “Look forward working together to achieve your vision for a social, ecological transformation for the people and nature of Brazil.”

Morgan wrote of Guajajara: “Your courage and tenacity is an inspiration. Celebrating this historic day for you and Indigenous peoples around the world.”

As The Guardian detailed: “Guajajara was born in the Araribóia territory of the eastern Amazon and became one of the leading lights of Brazil’s flourishing Indigenous rights movement, as well as a prominent leftist politician. In 2018, Guajajara became the first Indigenous woman to run for Brazil’s vice presidency. She won a place in Brazil’s overwhelmingly white, male Congress in October’s election.”

While I’m far from knowledgable about this, both women seem to have strong records when it comes to the intertwined subjects of the environment, and Indigenous rights. From what I can tell, the political situation is still far more precarious than I’d like. There’s some evidence of FBI involvement in Bolsonaro’s rise to power, and there’s a long history of left-wing regimes being attacked by the United States and other imperial powers. Lula is no communist, but he’s a ways to the left of the United States, and he seems to mostly put people over profit, which seems to offend the sensibilities of capitalist “world leaders”. Unfortunately, I think it’ll be a long time before we can expect to see real movement to the left in the world without that movement drawing fire from the global capitalist war machine. The upside is that Biden has show support for Lula, and has some political reasons to maintain that support, given Bolsonaro’s closeness with Trump, and the Dems’ desire to stop there from being a pattern of this particular kind of coup attempt.

Sorry, had to fret at least a little about that. The reality is that this is good news, and there’s been so much bad news the last few years, that good things feel like a trick sometimes. This really is good news, though. I first started paying attention to Brazil back in 2006, when I met a man in Tanzania who had been at a renewable energy conference, and was excited to talk about all the advances Brazil had been making – it seemed like it was way ahead of the U.S.! That was right in the middle of Lula’s first stint as president, and while Bolsonaro has done his damnedest to sell the Amazon for lumber, there’s still a lot left to save, and Lula taking office is a great way to start 2023.

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A video and some thoughts on the recent power grid attacks

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about an attack on the power grid of Moore County, NC, apparently planned and carried out to shut down a drag show happening at a theater in the town of Southern Pines. Attacking the power grid is not a new tactic, either for right-wing extremists in the United States, or for paramilitary and revolutionary groups around the world. In the time since that post, there have been several more attacks around the country, not all associated with particular events the way the Moore County attack was, and it seems like that pattern is going to continue. This video from Beau of the Fifth Column goes into the thinking (and lack thereof) behind these attacks, why they won’t work for their probable intended purpose, and why they’re a problem anyway. It also goes into some tips for preparing for this to happen to your part of the grid.

Basically, there are three goals that attacks like this have historically had three goals, which don’t apply to the current situation. I’ll try to summarize below for those who can’t watch the video.

  1. To provoke a security clampdown. This is designed to anger the general public against the government forces clamping down. It has been successful, in some places, in getting more of the local populace to take up arms against an occupier. The U.S., however, is not being occupied by any outside force. The U.S. is also extremely good at controlling its populace, and because security clampdowns would be done by many different agencies (local police, state police, national guard, state and local governments, federal government), there’s no single target against whom to unify the people. The U.S. also pioneered understanding of this particular tactic, and so has literal instructions about avoiding the kind of clampdown in question.
  2. To blame the people in power for the grid failures, to turn the general public against them. The problem with this is that it requires the propaganda/political wing of the movement to repeatedly blame the people in power for what’s happening, but given that the “mainstream” right and the “extreme” right in the U.S. are so intertwined that moderation algorithms may not be able to tell the difference, so very few people will buy that the Democrats are to blame for these attacks. It’s more likely that the GOP will be seen as being on board with the attacks. Beau mentions that as with the first goal, this goal usually applies to occupied countries.
  3. To do a “reset” – knock everything out, and use the chaos to take control of the country by force. This would require them to have popular support, which they don’t. Absent that, they’d need the numbers, resources, and organization to occupy and control the entirety of the “lower 48”. Beau said he’s not sure that the U.S. army, which is the one force on the planet that might be able to pull that off, would be able to. The U.S. is simply too big. Maybe they’re hoping that the military would do it for them, but in my own opinion, there’s no way that happens without the GOP already having total control of the federal government, or something very close to it.

The bad news is that these attacks still cut off power to thousands of people. Beau compares this to January 6th – virtually zero chance of success, but still very destructive. Lost power can mean lost heat, spoiled food and medicine, shutdown of medical devices, shutdown of municipal water systems, and much more, depending on where it happens and how long the damage takes to repair. That means that to whatever degree you are able, you should probably prepare for power outages if you live in the U.S..

You know how I’ve written about the synergy between the threats we face, and the actions we need to take to prepare or remove those threats? You know how my direct action post couples the dangers of a warming planet and rising fascism? In both cases, I think it’s reasonable to expect more power outages, which means doing what you can to prepare for that. At the more expensive end, that means getting a generator (which should always be used outdoors, even if it means you have to crack a window for the cable. Please don’t gas yourself), or having a solar or wind setup with a battery, as well as something for purifying water. Again, at the high end that might be a powered purifier, and at the low end, we have stuff like iodine tablets or the filters lots of people use for camping. At the low end for power, there are cheap cell phone backup batteries, less cheap solar chargers, or you can look into the devices sold to jump-start cars, and get one that has a normal outlet as well as the car cables. Beau also mentions car inverters, that let you use your car as a generator. I’m not providing any links because I don’t want to recommend any particular products, but if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have the capacity to search the internet to see what’s out there.

Obviously, different people will have different needs, and in the U.S. it’s pretty common for those who need powered medical devices or refrigerated medicine, to also be short on resources to buy things like big backup batteries or generators. If you have the means to “overprepare”, you might want to consider doing so, expressly for the purpose of offering help to those around you who don’t have the means. If they’re open to it and you can, help others prepare. Also, in general, be on the lookout for random opportunities to help – it may well come down to luck and landscape. I have relatives who’ve been the only means of communication for their neighborhood, because their home just happened to be a bit more elevated, so the storm surge didn’t reach them.

It absolutely sucks that this is where we’re at, but in addition to extreme weather, we also need to prepare for the violent outbursts of a group of obnoxious people eager to fight to the death against largely imaginary enemies, in the name of the pettiest, most boring, and least stable fantasy of a utopia that bigoted cowards have ever devised. The danger is real, even if the effort is doomed to failure, and the overall threat of fascism is, in my opinion, still extremely high. The one silver lining, tissue-thin though it is, is that our course of action should be the same regardless. Build collective power. Organize, train, and prepare for disasters, both natural and man-made. It’s a very, very old formula, but it’s one that seems to be affective across the ages.

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Video: We Need A Library Economy

I’ve heard it said many times that people have trouble imagining what a post-capitalist society might look like. After all, all we have to go on is what came before capitalism, plus the few attempts at something different that we’ve seen over the last century or so. It’s hard to imagine something that doesn’t exist yet, right? Even those parts of the world that operate differently within their own borders, do so within a world controlled by capitalism, and operating under those rules.

So what do we have to compare? Is there anything in existence now, that most people know about, that we could expand use as an example of how things could work differently? Honestly, there are probably a few examples, but one of the best, brought to us by Andrewism, is that of the library. His videos are always pretty chill, and I find this description of what a “library economy” might look like to be inspiring:

No wonder conservatives hate them.

Pine Ridge Reservation needs your help

It’s important to remember, when we talk about the United States as an empire, that its war against the various Native American tribes never really ended, it just changed a little. When the rights and needs of Native communities come into conflict with the greed of capitalists, the government still responds with violence. The reservation system was not set up for the benefit of Native Americans, it was set up to contain them. Understanding that is key to understanding why conditions on those reservations tend to be so bad. And when conditions are bad as a matter of routine, disasters hit a lot harder. The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has been hit hard by the latest distortion of the Polar Vortex, to the point where there are snow drifts as tall as houses, and people have had to burn clothes to stay warm:

Halverson, who represents the Pass Creek District on the Pine Ridge Reservation, described their harrowing situation to the Journal on Thursday.

“It’s been really tough,” she said. “We don’t have the proper equipment here to handle what’s been going on. We have drifts as high as some houses that stretch 60, 70 yards at a time.”

More than 10 days since the storm began, Diaz has moved on and the skies have started to clear, but the recovery process is just beginning. Halverson didn’t get dug out of her house until eight days after the storm. Others are still trapped, reachable only by snowmobile.

It seems like every time we open the road, the snow just drifts it back over,” she said.

It’s an incredibly scary situation, she explained, as many of those snowed-in are missing dialysis treatments or dealing with other medical emergencies. One family ran out of infant formula, and spent four days drifted in before attempting to leave, Halverson said.

“We even talked about using drone drops to get the baby some Enfamil, because the baby was starving,” she said.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet.

If being trapped by formidable walls of ice and snow wasn’t enough, subzero temperatures, brought down by an Arctic front, took an already struggling region by the neck. Temperatures dropped into the negative teens and 20s this week, and the unkind Midwest wind shredded those figures with wind chills in the negative 40s and negative 50s.

Cold like that is deadly, just another blow to a reservation already crippled by conditions, Halverson said.

“Most of our members use wood stoves,” she said. “We’re not able to get them with deliveries because of the roads. A lot of our members across the reservation have no propane, because the propane companies can’t reach their tanks to fill. Even right now in my district, we haven’t had anybody able to deliver out to these members that have no propane since the storm started.”

Oglala-based service organization Re-Member provides firewood to families on all corners of the reservation, but the drifts of snow have rendered their wood stockpile inaccessible still – and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

“Our wood pile remains inaccessible,” read a Facebook post on Dec. 20. “Our skid steer and plow are out-of-service. Given the conditions, it would be near impossible to operate our equipment and unsafe for our staff to work in the conditions we are facing. We appreciate the efforts being made by many to keep the Oyate safe during these challenging times.”


“I’ve seen across the reservation some members were burning clothes in their wood stove because they couldn’t get access to wood,” Halverson said.

I think it’s likely that this distortion in the polar vortex is caused by arctic warming. The basic theory is that lower ice cover allows more direct interaction between sea and air, which builds up atmospheric pressure, stretching the vortex southward, but there’s still debate about that. What matters at this moment is doing what we can to help. You’re welcome to hunt for your own ways to do so, but this looks like the best option to me:

   I sent them what we can spare. It’s not much, but as I like to say, crowdfunding requires a crowd. The National Guard has also been helping, but there’s no question that they need everything they can get. As I mentioned before, the fact that they were already living so close to the edge has made this disaster many times worse than it might have been. I think this quote from Halverson sums it up well:

“We don’t live on our reservation,” she said. “We survive on our reservation. We’re in serious need of some help.”

When you’re in a survival scenario, even something small going wrong can kill, and this storm is definitely not “something small”. We help as we can right now, but it’s important to remember that that living situation – surviving, not living – is the result of ongoing injustice. It’s good that the government is helping in this situation, but that same government is what stands in the way when Native Americans fight for more than mere survival. Support Land Back and other struggles for Indigenous liberation, and if you can spare a little money to help in the short term, it’s sorely needed. Even if you can just spare $1, that combines with what others give, and it’s our collective power that can save lives.

The land defenders of the world are right: To save ourselves, we must protect the forests.

I have to say, I really enjoy the metaphor of a Jenga tower, for the way the world is going. Blocks are being removed to build the top to new heights, with no concern for the overall instability being created. Sea level rise, chemical pollution, habitat destruction, extreme weather, fascism, decaying capitalism, new diseases – things are feeling pretty unstable right now. To extend the metaphor, a lot of what we are trying to do is to add blocks at the bottom to re-stabilize things. Some of that is social – adding new “stabilizers” like universal healthcare, free mass transit, reliable access to power, housing, food, and water, and so on. And some of it, as we so often discuss here, is ecological – actively working to add new “blocks” through things like rewilding, while also working to prevent the blocks that remain from being taken like so many others to add to the top.

Specifically, to disentangle ourselves from the metaphor, we need to preserve existing, and especially old wilderness. This is not some kind of “it was better before humans messed everything up” nostalgia or something. As I’ve written about before, ancient trees bring resources and stability that younger forests simply lack. The research we’re looking at today underscores the importance of old-growth trees when it comes to drought resistance:

A new analysis of more than 20,000 trees on five continents shows that old-growth trees are more drought tolerant than younger trees in the forest canopy and may be better able to withstand future climate extremes.

The findings highlight the importance of preserving the world’s remaining old-growth forests, which are biodiversity strongholds that store vast amounts of planet-warming carbon, according to University of Michigan forest ecologist Tsun Fung (Tom) Au, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Global Change Biology.

“The number of old-growth forests on the planet is declining, while drought is predicted to be more frequent and more intense in the future,” said Au, lead author of the study published online Dec. 1 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Given their high resistance to drought and their exceptional carbon storage capacity, conservation of older trees in the upper canopy should be the top priority from a climate mitigation perspective.”

The researchers also found that younger trees in the upper canopy—if they manage to survive drought—showed greater resilience, defined as the ability to return to pre-drought growth rates.

While deforestation, selective logging and other threats have led to the global decline of old-growth forests, subsequent reforestation—either through natural succession or through tree planting—has led to forests dominated by increasingly younger trees.

For example, the area covered by younger trees (<140 years old) in the upper canopy layer of temperate forests worldwide already far exceeds the area covered by older trees. As forest demographics continue to shift, younger trees are expected to play an increasingly important role in carbon sequestration and ecosystem functioning.

“Our findings—that older trees in the upper canopy are more drought tolerant, while younger trees in the upper canopy are more drought resilient—have important implications for future carbon storage in forests,” Au said.

“These results imply that in the short term, drought’s impact on forests may be severe due to the prevalence of younger trees and their greater sensitivity to drought. But in the long run, those younger trees have a greater ability to recover from drought, which could be beneficial to the carbon stock.”

It’s good that younger trees are able to bounce back, and it shows the validity of re-foresting, but the unique properties of old-growth forests are another reason why, as I said last time I wrote about this, it’s important to defend what we have. The work that land defenders are doing in Atlanta, and other places around the world, benefits all of us, even if we never, ever actually walk under those trees, or have to deal with the cops that want to cut them down. When it comes to ecosystems on the other side of the world from you, think of them like your city’s water treatment plant, or the power plant, miles and miles away, that’s generating your electricity. The way those ecosystems affect the air and water does actually impact your life, albeit indirectly.

The one upside of inheriting a world that’s been ravaged by greed for the last couple centuries, is that there are so many ways we could start improving things. Some of that can be done directly, right now, and I have immense respect for those who put their bodies between our environment and destruction, as well as those that provide them with material support. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, their work puts them in clear, immediate danger, especially when they’re indigenous.

We’ve been fortunate, in that the “Jenga tower” of our world had a lot of blocks to remove, so it’s taken a while, for the instability to become obvious. It’s also very good that, while much has been lost, there’s still a fair amount of land out there that’s relatively “untouched”, in addition to the various “younger” ecosystems. It sometimes bugs me that I keep coming back to the need for political change, but at the end of the day, most of the big problems in the world lead back to our political and economic status quo. Support land back, support land and water protectors, and do what you can to build collective power and move other people to the left. We’re blessed with an abundance of opportunities for making the world better, but a lot of them are time-limited, so there’s no time to lose!

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Whales, Carbon Sinks, and Eco-Socialism

The “mainstream media” has gotten ahold of a bit of interesting research, and I wanted to give my own two cents on the subject. Basically, cetaceologists (and others, but I wanted to use that word) have added a little weight and some important framing to something we already knew – whales sequester carbon.

“Understanding the role of whales in the carbon cycle is a dynamic and emerging field that may benefit both marine conservation and climate-change strategies,” write the authors, led by Heidi Pearson, a biologist from the University of Alaska Southeast. “This will require interdisciplinary collaboration between marine ecologists, oceanographers, biogeochemists, carbon-cycle modelers, and economists.”

Whales can weigh up to 150 tons, live over 100 years, and be the size of large airplanes. Like all living things, their hefty biomass is composed largely of carbon and they make up one of the largest living carbon pools in the pelagic ocean, part of the marine system that is responsible for storing 22% of Earth’s total carbon.

“Their size and longevity allow whales to exert strong effects on the carbon cycle by storing carbon more effectively than small animals, ingesting extreme quantities of prey, and producing large volumes of waste products,” write the authors. “Considering that baleen whales have some of the longest migrations on the planet, they potentially influence nutrient dynamics and carbon cycling over ocean-basin scales.”

Whales consume up to 4% of their massive body weight in krill and photosynthetic plankton every day. For the blue whale, this equates to nearly 8,000 pounds. When they finish digesting their food, their excrement is rich in important nutrients that help these krill and plankton flourish, aiding in increased photosynthesis and carbon storage from the atmosphere.

A blue whale can live up to 90 years. When they die and their bodies fall to the seafloor, the carbon they contain is transferred to the deep sea as they decay. This supplements the biological carbon pump, where nutrients and chemicals are exchanged between the ocean and the atmosphere through complex biogeochemical pathways. Commercial hunting, the largest source of population decline, has decreased whale populations by 81%, with unknown effects on biological carbon pump.

It seems that “nature-based solutions” is a catchphrase that is very much in vogue right now, and I’m thrilled to see it. The authors of this study state right at the beginning – before the abstract – that we need to do something about climate change, and if we know what’s good for us, we’ll save the fucking whales.

  • As climate change accelerates, there is increasing interest in the ability of whales to trap carbon (i.e., whale carbon), yet it is currently undetermined if and how whale carbon should be used in climate-change mitigation strategies.
  • Restoring whale populations will enhance carbon storage in whale biomass and sequestration in the deep sea via whale falls, though the global impact will be relatively small.
  • Whale-stimulated primary productivity via nutrient provisioning may sequester substantially more carbon, though there is uncertainty regarding the carbon fate in these food webs.
  • Recovery of whale populations via reduction of anthropogenic impacts can aid in carbon dioxide removal but its inclusion in climate policy needs to be grounded in the best available science and considered in tandem with other strategies known to directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Good note at the end there. Even a full recovery of whale populations, back to their numbers before commercial whaling began, would not “fix” the climate. It would be awesome, and it would certainly help, but it’s just one part of the system I always rant about changing.

Confession time – during a rather bleak period a couple years before I left the U.S., I more or less gave up on saving marine ecosystems. Honestly, I have up on pretty much everything for a bit. That coincided with a number of health problems, which may have influenced my mood, but a lot of it was from grim news about oceanic plankton levels, my recently-assuaged fears about the so-called “clathrate gun”, and a growing understanding of just how incredibly fucked up our political and economic systems were. Improvements to my health and to Raksha’s also helped my mood, I think, as did a change of employment.

More than that, however, I needed a shift in how I looked at things. I had had the “ecologist” perspective, and the “environmentalist” perspective, but I think I was lacking the “socialist” perspective to bring me to some form of eco-socialism. I couldn’t see hope for a better future, because all the paths to change that I knew about were blocked by the immense and utterly ruthless power of corporate interests. The solution, of course, is to forge a new path, by attacking that power itself. People talk about grassroots organizing, and while that’s basically what I advocate, I think tree roots might be a better metaphor here – we need to increase our own power by cracking apart the foundations of theirs.

All of this is to say that while I still feel the outlook is not currently good, there is a synergy between problem and solution that makes the way forward not only clear, but beneficial to humanity in the short term, if only we can convince people to abandon their understandable fear of big changes. Whales may or may not be the most charismatic of the charismatic megafauna, but they certainly fit the “mega” part of the description. Maybe a new “save the whales” campaign will tie into the same nostalgia-obsession that has a stranglehold on Hollywood and TV? I joked about charisma, but honestly, whales really are cool.

The more I think about them, the more fascinating they become. The obvious thing about them, of course, is their size. They’re just way, way too big, and unlike other organisms of comparable size (I’m thinking trees and some fungus), they move around a lotThis means that in addition to their role in ocean mixing (along with smaller critters), they also move large amounts of biological material around. Some of that was covered in the quotes above, but it seems that in addition to moving nutrients around vertically in the water column, the fact that they are so big means that they distribute nutrients all over the planet, simply by being nomadic and huge.

Fortunately, efforts to restore whale populations have actually had some success, and that in turn has had a real effect on the oceans:

“As humpbacks, gray whales, sperm whales and other cetaceans recover from centuries of overhunting, we are beginning to see that they also play an important role in the ocean,” Roman said. “Among their many ecological roles, whales recycle nutrients and enhance primary productivity in areas where they feed.” They do this by feeding at depth and releasing fecal plumes near the surface — which supports plankton growth — a remarkable process described as a “whale pump.” Whales also move nutrients thousands of miles from productive feeding areas at high latitudes to calving areas at lower latitudes.

That article, which also mentions the cetacean role in carbon sequestration, is from 2014, which triggers a couple thoughts. The first is that, as I said at the beginning, we’ve known for a while that whales play a part in natural carbon sequestration and natural carbon capture, but as with so many other things, it hasn’t been given much attention in media or in policy.

The second is that we actually have a pretty good idea about how to make life easier for whales. Recovery efforts have had huge successes just in my lifetime! This is yet another area in which we pretty much know what needs to be done, and to some degree it is actually being done in this case. I feel like I don’t get to say stuff like that very often. Even so, it’s not like whales are out of the woods. While they are, by themselves, foundational to oceanic ecosystems, they also depend on said ecosystems, and we’re messing with those in a variety of ways. As ever, what we’ve done is good, and we need to do more.

I mentioned the fears people tend to have about change, and the article I quoted just above actually addresses what may be both the most long-standing and the most culturally persuasive objection to the idea of a boom in global whale populations: What about the fishermen?

Sometimes, commercial fishermen have seen whales as competition. But this new paper summarizes a strong body of evidence that indicates the opposite can be true: whale recovery “could lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth,” supporting more robust fisheries.

As whales recover, there may be increased whale predation on aquaculture stocks and increased competition — real or perceived — with some commercial fisheries. But the new paper notes “ a recent investigation of four coastal ecosystems has demonstrated the potential for large increases in whale abundance without major changes to existing food-web structures or substantial impacts on fishery production.”

I think a lot of people cling to the way we do things now, because of how well it’s done for us. For all of its problems, there’s a lot to like about life as it exists, especially if you live in richer nations. We have a fear of putting our weight on an unproven bridge, especially if it doesn’t look like the bridges we’ve crossed before. That combines with the modern love of incremental change (which seems to be uncomfortably similar to the slippery slope fallacy) to persuade people that the path forward is for people who care about this stuff to try their changes and see how they do “in the marketplace of ideas”. Somewhere along the way we seem to have developed a societal belief that we can make the world better without risk or discomfort, because of how well our current system supposedly works. We’re in the perfect vessel, and it’s on autopilot, so just go don’t rock the boat and everything will get better.

Part of the beauty of the path I want us to take is that while it will not be easy, safe, or free of problems, every step we take actually takes us in the right direction. We’ve been taught to view good things with suspicion. To quote The Dread Pirate Roberts, “life is pain, and anyone who says differently is selling something.” We hear it so often, in so many different ways, that it feels like it’s just… how things are. Everyone’s always trying to get one over on us, because that’s just how the world works, right? My twitter bio may say “utopian pragmatist”, but this isn’t a matter of even the most level-headed of utopianism. This more akin to understanding why an increase in greenhouse gases causes an increase in temperature.

When we take measures to reduce our impact on the ecosystems around us, we reliably get results that make life better for us. In some ways, this feels obvious, right? It’s like how maintaining good hygiene, diet, and exercise habits pretty reliably improves our health. There are real and important benefits to modern technology, social innovations, etc., that have made life better, and for many people possible. Most of the good stuff we can keep, and that does include a variety of “toxic” chemicals. What we need is to make a societal priority out of global ecosystem health in a way that includes us as a part of that global ecosystem.

Hence, eco-socialism, hence solarpunk, hence climate justice, hence the call to organize and build collective power.

The advances we’ve made have not come from “capitalism” or from our so-called leaders. They have come from the hard work of people, often fighting against capitalism and its leaders. That includes labor rights, civil rights, environmental protections, even safe living spaces – none of that was given to us. All of it was taken, by people working together to make life better for everyone. That’s the attitude I see in the rise in unionization and strikes in the United States. It’s the attitude I see in the Land Defenders of Atlanta, and the Water Protectors of Standing Rock. I would say it’s also an attitude that’s been long-standing among indigenous activists around the world, which is why it is so important to listen to them on things like ecosystem management, and to support the land back movement. It’s a matter of justice, but it’s also a matter of changing our relationship with the planet.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!


Washington D.C. to eliminate bus fares starting this summer

Public mass transit is the beating heart of pretty much every major city. It makes commuting affordable, cuts down on traffic and pollution, and allows visitors to navigate cities without the stress and danger of driving. It provides freedom of movement in a very immediate and concrete way, with none of the “access to x (for a price) bullshit. Well, except, that it does generally have a price, doesn’t it? It’s usually not hugely expensive, but if you’re really in a bad situation, any price may be more than you have. It is my view that mass transit should be free at the point of service, by default. I also think that should include the cross-country high speed rail that I would like everyone to start building now. Still, I accept that that may be a year or two off, so for now, I’ll take this wonderful news from Washington, D.C.:

Other cities, including Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, suspended fare collection during the height of the pandemic to minimize human contact and ensure that residents with no other travel options could reach jobs and services at hospitals, grocery stores and offices.

But D.C.‘s permanent free fare plan will be by far the biggest, coming at a time when major cities including Boston and Denver and states such as Connecticut are considering broader zero-fare policies to improve equity and help regain ridership that was lost with the rise of remote and hybrid work. Los Angeles instituted free fares in 2020 before recently resuming charging riders. Lately LA Metro has been testing a fare-capping plan under which transit riders pay for trips until they hit a fixed dollar amount and then ride free after that, though new Mayor Karen Bass has suggested support for permanently abolishing the fares.

Analysts say D.C.’s free fare system offers a good test case on how public transit can be reshaped for a post-pandemic future.

If D.C. demonstrates that it increases ridership, it reduces the cost burden for people who are lower income and it improves the quality of transit service in terms of speed of bus service, and reduces cars on the road, this could be a roaring success,” said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “We just don’t know yet whether that would happen.”

The $2 fares will be waived for riders boarding Metrobuses within the city limits beginning around July 1. In unanimously approving the plan last week, the D.C. Council also agreed to expand bus service to 24 hours on 12 major routes downtown, benefiting nightlife and service workers who typically had to rely on costly ride-share to get home after the Metro subway and bus system closed at night.

A new $10 million fund devoted to annual investments in D.C. bus lanes, shelters and other improvements was also approved to make rides faster and more reliable.

I’m a fan of this trend, and even more pleased to see that the DC city council seems to be allocating money for improving things, on top of turning the busses into a genuine public service. I don’t see how it could possibly not reduce the burden on poorer people. I don’t know whether it will increase ridership a whole lot – sometimes you just cut costs elsewhere to make sure you can get to work – but I suspect there will be a measurable increase.

Unfortunately, some people who drive cars do so specifically because they have money, and because they want to avoid mixing with the common folk. I don’t know what proportion of DC traffic is made up of those people, but it wouldn’t shock me to learn that it’s pretty high. The article I’m quoting is from Fortune, so of course they had to get the opinion of an extremist neoliberal think tank:

Peter Van Doren, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Cato Institute, said the plan risks high costs and mixed results, noting that the opportunity to improve ridership may be limited because bus passengers have been quicker to return to near pre-pandemic levels. He said government subsidies to help lower-income people buy cars would go farther because not everyone has easy access to public transit, which operates on fixed routes.

“The beauty of automobiles is they can go anywhere and everywhere in a way that transit does not,” he said. “We don’t know the subset of low-income people in D.C. where transit is a wonderful option as opposed to not such a wonderful option.”

The Cato Institute advocates for the privatization of public services, has worked hard to protect tobacco industry profits, opposes climate action, opposes civil rights, opposes women’s rights – so, you know, they’re mainstream U.S. conservatives, and because they have money backing them, we apparently have to take them seriously. Thankfully, they’re not getting their way on this. They might try to get Congress to interfere, but it seems like there’s actual momentum in the right direction. The most predictable hurdle to clear will be the question of paying for it.

Still, free fares can be a tough choice for cities. “If the consequence of a zero-fare program is you have less funds to invest in frequent service, then you’re going backwards,” Guzzetti said.

In Kansas City, which began offering zero-fares for its buses in March 2020 and has no planned end date, officials said the program has helped boost ridership, which has risen by 13% in 2022 so far compared with the previous year. The free fares amount to an $8 million revenue loss, with the city paying for more than half of that and federal COVID aid covering the rest through 2023, said Cindy Baker, interim vice president for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, who describes the program as a success.

The program has eliminated altercations between passengers and bus drivers over fares, although there have been more instances of passenger disputes due to an increase in homeless riders, according to the agency. Baker said the transit agency has been adding security in response to some rider complaints.

To me, revenue is not a complicated problem – impose a tax that increases with wealth/income. Ideally, it should be considerably more than the expected cost of running things, so that the system can be improved, more people hired for cleaning and maintenance, and maybe they can even pay to make sure nonviolent conflict resolution is a big part of the training for all that added security.

Seems like that would create jobs, increase consumer spending, and generally make life better for everyone, not to mention nobody would be late to work because they couldn’t afford the bus. Still, conservatives like the folks at the Cato Institute seem to think that making life better for people – especially via public spending- is evil. We’ve got a long way to go before the capitalists served by organizations like that don’t have the power to interfere in governance, but every step we take that makes life a little easier for the general public gives us a little more power as individuals. That doesn’t mean we will use that slack to rise up and change the world, but it gives more room for the possibility.

I expect that the D.C. experiment will be a huge success in all the ways I care about, and that no amount of success will persuade those ideologically opposed to public services. Fortunately, we don’t need to persuade them, we just need to beat them.

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Atlanta land defenders charged with “domestic terrorism”

Back in May, I wrote a little about the movement to defend the Atlanta Forest. This is a grassroots effort to stop a section of forest to make a fake city for police training. From what I can tell, a facility like that is generally used for tactical training – group exercises that amount to training to wage war on everyday people. In my view, this would be a bad use of even a reclaimed landfill, let alone land that is currently a forest.

The struggle is ongoing, and of course it’s one-sided. Fighting back against the police would allow them to escalate through their bloated armory, so all the people can do is put their bodies in the gears of the machine, to try to stop it from rolling over the forest. They’re camping out in the trees, because that makes it less likely for the trees to be cut down. For this, they have been called terrorists:

Five people arrested at the planned site of Atlanta’s new public safety training center have been charged with domestic terrorism, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday.

What’s happening: State and local law enforcement clashed Tuesday with protesters occupying the DeKalb County forest where Atlanta wants to build a public safety training center.

Why it matters: The confrontation is the latest in the long-running occupation aimed at blocking the Atlanta Police Foundation’s proposed complex, which activists have dubbed “Cop City.”

Details: Accounts differ as to what took place in the deep woods off Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb County. Sean Wolters, a media contact for the resistance effort, told Axios that as of 10:30am activists camping in trees were being hit with tear gas and pepper balls.

  • The Atlanta Community Press Collective, a news outlet supportive of the resistance effort, posted a video apparently shot by one of the activists and reported police firing “chemical irritants” in their direction.

An Atlanta police spokesperson said officers and “local, state, and task force members removed barricades blocking some of the entrances to the training center.” He provided no additional information.

  • Alison Clark, a local resident who leads a group advising the center’s development, told the AJC the activists shot fireworks at first responders and then law enforcement entered the property.
  • Wolters denied this account to Axios, saying an apparent operation by APD to remove people from the trees sparked the clash.

As the Axios article notes, this situation is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. I write often about how ecosystem health is key to our survival, and we’re still very much in a system that doesn’t even see it as a factor to consider. If someone with money and power wants to clear-cut an area for pointless, or even harmful reasons, the question asked is whether they have ownership of that bit of land. The only time there’s a delay on it is if there’s a protected species there (which became protected because of political activism), or there are people there, standing in the way.

I support the effort to stop “cop city”, but I fear that there will be more violence from the police; at the end of the day, violence is their main point. Even so, these confrontations are necessary if we want real change, and I think this highlights how the priorities of our society must be changed, or we’ll be carried to destruction by the momentum of the systems we currently have.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!