Month: July 2020

Deep Water Mining – What’s really going on in our Oceans?

“The world is too tragic for naive optimism” – Cornel West

The coronavirus has spurred a number of recovery plans including from the World Bank and the Democrats, and the European Union all of which keep the climate and sustainability at the forefront. Threaded through all of them is the idea of a green revolution that “Builds Back Better”, meaning that the world will once again hit all of its economic markers without the fossil fuel pollution that’s always accompanied it.

That may be easier said than done, however. The green revolution will require massive solar fields and wind farms as well as fields of batteries to store and manage the energy that is captured. The materials required for sustainable tech – primarily lithium, cobalt, copper, and the rare earth metal neodymium among others – are increasingly hard to come by and are mostly found in China, parts of SE Asia, Australia, sub-Saharan African countries, and along the Ring of Fire that runs from the southern tip of Chile to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Demand is driving fresh exploration in Eastern Europe and across the United States but the biggest cache of minerals exists underwater. 

4000-6000 ft under the Pacific Ocean exist large hydrothermal vents that belch out constant streams of minerals that form clusters of gold, silver, copper, cobalt and an array of rare earth metals. It’s the new frontier of mining according to a 60 Minutes feature from 2019 that asked why the US hasn’t yet capitalized on this emerging market. And that is a question to ask. The underwater deposits are estimated to be worth upwards of $17 trillion and whoever gets there first could have a veritable monopoly over the much coveted metals. From this vantage point it is fairly mysterious that the United States has not committed more money towards this endeavor especially considering the 2 million sq/mi minefield, called the Clarion Clipperton Zone, or CCZ, is situated between Hawaii and Mexico. 

There are no reliable deep sea mining operations yet because of the extreme complexities involved in the process. Yet is the operative word here. There’s a mad dash by groups around the globe trying to be the first ones to crack this nut and that’s a very scary thing because no one really knows what the environmental impacts would be in any direction. To date, roughly 1% of the deepwater ocean floor has been mapped and little is known about what ecosystems exist down there. What is known is that the  hydrothermal vents that produce the bounty of metals more importantly play host to one of the most curious and alien biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. They are wonderfully complex and shrouded in mystery not only to questions of how they evolved but how they integrate into the oceans ecosystem at large. 

The United Nations recently released a resolution calling for the suspension of deep sea mining until better and comprehensive environmental impact studies are done. The resolution came out of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) which is a consortium of 168 nations formed in 1982 to study and provide regulations for activities in the sea. Though under the umbrella of the United Nations, they are relatively autonomous and have their own governance structure. They have put forward hard fought agreements such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea and The Mining Code which are meant to provide a semblance of guidelines and regulations to those wanting extract resources from the ocean. As agreed to by the 168 nations in the ISA, all the minerals in the deep seabed are considered the shared heritage of all mankind, which is one way to say that it’s open season for whoever can get them. 

In 2018, De Beers Corporation scraped the sea floor for 1.4 million carats of diamonds off the coast of Namibia and is working on a new boat that can scrape at twice the speed. There’s no telling what it’s done or will do to those ecosystems going forward because there’s no requirement to learn what those impacts might be. It’s a disturbing precedent that’s being set and it’s only just beginning. There are mining operations underway in New Guinea to break apart underwater geysers to access the mineral deposits built up around them, and both Japan and South Korea are starting their own deep water operations. There isn’t a policing body for much of any of this. Countries own the waters 12 miles off their coastlines but beyond that invisible line it becomes international waters where regulations and oversight fade away. It’s the perfect place for corporations and countries to extract with relative immunity and little to no recourse, except for whatever the Earth doles out. 

We should have been descaling carbon production decades ago but we didn’t and now we’re looking for an exit where one might not exist. The green revolution that the world so desperately needs might come with costs that we do not begin to know how to measure. In our desperation to avoid the worst of fossil fuels we must not let our hope in a green revolution allow us to rely upon the processes and ideologies that got us here in the first place. 

 

‘Forging an Earth Ethic’ – Video: Karenna Gore hosted by Charlemont Forum

Karenna Gore
Director, Center for Earth Ethics Union Theological Seminary
Forging an Earth Ethic in a Time of Crisis

Hosted by Charlemont Forum of the Charlemont Federated Church – Affiliated with the United Church of Christ

Watch the Complete Video HERE

“The coronavirus pandemic has revealed injustices in the fabric of our society and demonstrated the strong relationship between science and ethics and the potential for systemic change. As we meet the challenge of this pandemic, we must also reckon with the looming climate crisis and forge a new earth ethic together.”

The themes of climate change and the corona virus merge in the Charlemont Forum’s second summer program event with Karenna Gore speaking to the challenge of “Forging an Earth Ethic in a Time of Crisis”. The Forum will once again utilize the Zoom technology platform that has proved effective in reaching audience members in Western Massachusetts as well as nation wide. The program originally aired July 9, 2020 at 7 p.m.

Ethical Call to Action on Climate Policy by Karenna Gore

Ethics is simply about right and wrong and as a field of thought, it is most powerful when a widely held, deep sense of right and wrong is out of step with both laws and social norms. That is the case with the climate crisis today and we need to point it out clearly. The stunning truth of our situation is that the main drivers of global ecological destruction are perfectly legal—and even socially encouraged. We know that half of the global warming emissions in the atmosphere now have been put up there in the past 20 years, the time we have known the most about this and had the most viable alternatives. Data and science and technology and common sense are not enough. The urgent work to be done is changing the laws and the way to do so is to appeal to our deepest shared values. We need an ethical call to legislative advocacy.

Most Americans sense and express that it is wrong to turn a blind eye to this trajectory that we are on, passing on the burdens of climate impacts to the poor and vulnerable and to all future generations, allowing the mass extinctions and extreme weather events to unfold, with the consequence of certain and massive suffering and death. To confront the truth of it naturally causes moral indignation. And this is a force we need to be very mindful of. We cannot count on it doing the work on its own. It causes such discomfort, particularly in a situation in which most of us feel implicated in the systems that are a part and parcel of all this, that it can be easily inverted into denial, despair, grief, inaction, and projection. We also live in a time that is so saturated with outrage that an effort to convey it is sometimes put into a funhouse mirror and turned back on itself. So this is all reason to take the discourse of ethics and morals very seriously in legislative advocacy— it is essential, and it is most powerful if used with intention and care.

Religion can and does play an important role, as it has in other major movements for change around the world throughout history. One is to call people to a sense of belonging that is deeper than political or partisan affiliations. Bishop Desmond Tutu said that the scriptural teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God was key to ending apartheid in South Africa. Spiritual teachings and practices can also galvanize, inspire, and bring people together to act with courage and conviction. Mahatma Gandhi’s notions of satyagraha (truth-force) and ahimsa (nonviolence) helped bring down British imperial rule in India. And finally, there is organizational reach and power in faith communities. In the United States, we saw all of this in the Civil Rights movement, whose most powerful leader was a Baptist preacher who invoked scripture and practiced nonviolence and packed churches throughout the South with people who were ready to march, vote, speak out and fight for legislation.

We have seen this some of this in the climate movement already and there is much more potential. In fact, I would argue that some of what is causing the current excitement and traction around climate legislation—the emphasis on justice—has been voiced by faith-based climate leaders for some time.

In August of 2013, Rev Gerald Durley, currently the chairman of Interfaith Power and Light, wrote a piece titled Climate Change is Civil Rights Issue in which he laid it out. And there are many other examples, one place to find them is in the many faith based statement on climate change that are online.

We just had the 5 year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home and it is important to acknowledge that this great effort was one of the driving forces behind the agreement in Paris. I was in Paris as a representative of the Climate Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Pope Francis’ message was powerful in the international community and it was also part of the leading edge of thought that has gotten us to widespread realization that social and ecological issues are intertwined.  

In the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty (not in effect officially until the day after the next election), the We are Still In movement has kept it alive. There are 100s of Faith signatories and there have been eloquent statements from faith leaders on this matter.

There has also been a tremendous push on divestment in faith communities, internationally and nationally, and I want to acknowledge the work of GreenFaith and 350 and others on this front. This can influence legislative advocacy because it pulls together political force and will and crystallizes values.

I have had the honor of witnessing and supporting some of the faith-based organizing work that has gone on in the US around climate, including by some people who are on this call, and I want to say that this is going on as we speak, with some the bills being presented today, and merits respect, support and expansion. In addition to the specific interfaith climate organizations I have already mentioned, there are faith-based groups from distinct religious traditions. (I won’t name them now due to time and my worry I will get in trouble for leaving some out). The work of Indigenous peoples and organizations and First Nations themselves is also important in this sphere—it has spiritual power and it is important for many deep reasons that coalitions of faith groups act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in legislative advocacy.

There are also some Green groups that have staffers designated to work on faith outreach. And perhaps most interesting in terms of immediate potential for legislative advocacy, there is a lot of energy and expertise in faith-based organizations and groups that had been focused on other advocacy efforts but can laser focus their attention on climate in the sessions ahead, drawing the connections to the issues of race, poverty, refugees that they already know so well. Coalitions such as the Washington Interfaith Service Coalition, Church World Service, and others are doing this and also there is tremendous work being done in specific denominations. And of course, there is the power of activating the grassroots network of congregations and communities throughout the land.

This work is powerful not just to reach across the ideological spectrum but also to bring people off the sidelines and breathe life into our body politic. Now is the time to step up that ethical call to Legislative Advocacy, thank you to those who already are.

 

Watch the complete webinar – Karenna Gore’s remarks begin at 38:46.

Climate Equity and Inclusion

When people think about climate change and environmentalism, the image that comes to mind is a polar bear on a melting block of ice. However, that image neglects to include people, especially living in communities that are suffering from lack of climate and environmental justice. These areas, often inhabited by people of color, poor people or rural residents are located across the United States. In many of these communities, basic services such was access to water and wastewater sanitation are also affected by climate change.

In Florida, sea-level rise is very apparent. As a result, the groundwater is rising too. This makes it hard to treat wastewater with septic tanks. The failing septic tanks are damaging the environment and the health of residents relying on that technology for wastewater treatment. In Miami-Dade County, septic tanks contaminate the aquifer that provides drinking water. Over a year ago, a Miami Herald article trumpeted that the city of Miami has a $3 Billion septic tank problem. This failing or nonexistent wastewater infrastructure we’re seeing largely impacts communities of color where sewage ends up inside their homes or in their yards. This should concern everyone since it has been established that COVID-19 is shed in feces and can exist in wastewater.

“Climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality.”

Sea-level rise has also led to sunny day flooding in the Sunshine State. As a result, escaping sea-level rise has led those that can afford it to move to higher ground. The highest ground in the Miami area is called Little Haiti. Historically it has been a neighborhood of low-income immigrants of color, and now, longtime residents are being forced out of their homes. This is called “climate gentrification” and it is also occurring in nearby Liberty City and Overtown, both of which were largely occupied by black people. In fact, Overtown was once called “Color Town” because of its large black population. Another pattern of climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality. Without an intentional effort to promote climate equity and inclusion, the displaced will end up in the flood-prone areas with failing septic systems.

“The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.”

In Alaska, water and sewer lines are being exposed and twisted because of thawing permafrost. Many indigenous communities have never received water or wastewater infrastructure. Places like the village of Newtok don’t even have running water. Without any toilets, people rely on five-gallon buckets known as “honey buckets” to dispense their waste. Then dispose of it in a pit or hole. The town is currently being relocated because of housing  being lost to melting caused by increasing temperatures. In the Navajo Nation, many homes are also without running water or wastewater infrastructure. Infections from COVID-19 are remarkably high and are underscored by limited water in homes and the inability to wash hands.. The theme is similar. The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Flowers, via hardback and Kindle on November 17th, 2020.

Lowndes County, Alabama provides another clear example of how the lack of access to sanitation is where environmental justice intersects with climate change. Known as “Bloody Lowndes” because of its history of racial terror, it is located between Selma and Montgomery. Most of the historic Selma to Montgomery voting rights march trail passes through this county. In the 1960s, sharecroppers were denied the right to vote and evicted from the plantations where they lived for attempting to exercise their right to vote. Today, Lowndes County, still a Black-majority county has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the state of Alabama. This should not come as a surprise since the area came to international prominence for its poverty and people living with raw sewage in their yards or flowing back into their homes because of failing septic systems. In 2017, a peer-reviewed study was published revealing that several tropical parasites including hookworm were found in fecal samples of county residents. Some of the tropical parasites were not expected to be found in the United States. Yet with climate change bringing warmer temperatures, the health consequences will worsen, and the old infrastructure designs are not and won’t be sufficient. Wastewater infrastructure in particular is continuously ignored despite being just as essential as water infrastructure. Those on the frontlines of these infrastructure injustices are suffering now more than ever because of climate change. They are the canary in the coal mine.

“A truly inclusive green future acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change — rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.”

Therefore, we need an inclusive view of environmentalism and an equitable vision for green infrastructure and jobs. A view that includes converting to a green economy using clean energy and renewables; building sustainable housing with a zero-carbon footprint; and switching from fossil fuels. It also includes creating affordable wastewater treatment technologies that reclaim nutrients and water for reuse. Most importantly, it requires supporting a truly inclusive green future that acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change – rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.

About the Author

Catherine Coleman Flowers the author of the book entitled Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, founder and director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Practitioner in Residence at Duke University, and board member of Climate Reality Project. Inspired by her daughter and grandson, her goal is to create a Green world that will benefit seven generations to come.

Catherine is the Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement. Learn More about Catherine’s work

Laudato Si at 5: Climate Justice and Ecological Citizenship in times of Covid-19

Video: Please enjoy the Laudato Si at 5 webinar program hosted by Fordham Law, June 18, 2020 |12:00-1:00 p.m.

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home reaches its fifth anniversary, amid a pandemic which has the power to transform ways of working, commuting, and connecting. It also reveals the deep inequities in our society, including environmental injustice that harms human health. In this dialogue, we will explore the ecological crisis in times of COVID-19 from a moral, economic, and legal perspective.

Speakers:
Kit KennedyDirector, Energy & Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council 
Karenna GoreDirector, Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary
John MundellPresident/Senior Environmental Consultant at Mundell & Associates, Inc.
Simone BorgLaw Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Law and Resources Law at the University of Malta School of Law.

Moderators:
Rabbi Burt Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary
Endy Moraes, Director of Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work.

Conveners:

Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work

Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary

Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary