Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Sustainable Deception (Deception Durable)

Directed by Michelle Moore and William Ray (2017)

Film Review

Sustainable Deception is a bilingual documentary about the devastating effects of oil and gas mining at opposite ends of Canada. What I found most interesting about the film were the uncanny similarities with our experience with fracking here in Taranaki.

The French segments of the film cover the town of Sept Iles in Quebec and the English segments the massive tar sands project in Alberta. French and English segments are placed back to pack to highlight the parallels between the two regions:

  • Despite constant promises of jobs and prosperity, all the oil and gas revenue exits local communities, leaving them with a net decrease in income and struggling to pay for increased infrastructure costs.
  • Environmental destruction from oil and gas mining converts pristine forest landscapes into industrial brown sites, pollutes waterways and destroys organic farms, fishing and other local businesses. It also increases local cancer rates.
  • Fluctuating global commodity prices lead to boom and bust cycles, fueling higher rates of homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Oil and gas companies subsidize a succession of corrupt right wing governments who systematically deny local residents any input into planning decisions around oil and gas and other mining.
  • Despite treaty obligations, indigenous communities are never consulting regarding decisions to allow mining (likewise there is no consultation with local Maori here in Taranaki.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a commentary by an Alberta activist about the need to transition from “extractive economies” that only benefit a handful of people to “value added” economies that rely on a diversity of businesses. Here in New Zealand, the Green Party is calling for a transition from an extractive economy – based on dairy, oil and gas – to a value added economy based on a renewable energy and information technology.

The most concerning part of the film was at the end, where one of the anti-mining activists is elected mayor of Sept Iles and talks openly about the enormous pressure the oil and gas industry (and the banks that finance them) put on elected officials. When they don’t get their way, these economic powerhouses have the capacity to generate economic instability that can bankrupt a small community.

blockade

 

Two hundred of us blocked all the entrances to the New Zealand Petroleum Conference for five hours yesterday.

Some great video footage at the Greenpeace website below.

Source: The People’s Climate Rally – 21st – 23rd March 2017

from KASM (Kiwis Against Sand Mining) website

Last Wednesday was a busy day for me with oral submissions to New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on sand mining and to the Health Select Committee on water fluoridation. The EPA is considering a renewed application by mining company Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) to dig up 50 million tonnes of seabed yearly in a 66 sq. km section of the South Taranaki Bight – for 35 years. The EPA refused the company a consent in 2014. TTR has now re-applied.
 

MY SUBMISSION

I am speaking to oppose this consent because I believe that coastal residents who will be negatively impacted by this project should have the final say whether it goes ahead or not. The likely environmental impacts – based on numerous studies in other regions on the effect of dredging and deep sea mining will cause wide ranging damage to deep sea plants and animals (ranging from microscopic to large marine mammals).

Killing the microscopic animals in the food chain has been shown to significantly reduce fish stocks and bird an mammal populations. In prior studies, the recovery period after sand mining was as long as 3-10 years. And none of these prior projects were anywhere near as extensive as TTR is proposing.

Computer Modeling Isn’t Proof

We also don’t see how some computer modelling done tens of thousands of miles away in London that somehow “proves” TTR’s proposal will cause no environmental damage. Surely if TTR were serious about investigating potential environmental harm, they would making more of an effort to study the marine life that already lives in the area they propose to mine instead of sending sediment samples to London for computer modelling. How can they possible predict the likely response of deep sea organisms when they haven’t made an effort to identify and count what’s already there?

With some of our marine mammals – including the Maui dolphin, the blue whale and the blue penguin – already seriously threatened, this major disruption in their food supply has the potential to wipe them out altogether.

Potential Major Harm to Fishing and Tourism

Taranaki’s fishing industry is already in deep trouble with declining fish stocks and the major environmental impact of sand mining also pose a major threat to tourism, which is now Tarankai’s primary industry. People come to Taranaki for surfing and recreational fishing, which are also threatened by sand mining, and for the pristine environment of our coast and beaches.

The people of Taranaki are fed up with being a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry, which in my view explains why the vast majority of submissions oppose this proposal. We’re fed up with having our livelihoods, health and quality of life sacrificed to increase the profits of offshore corporations.

Getting Stuck with the Final Clean-Up Bill

There are also major concerns over who will fix the environmental damage when this project finishes – or fails. With the drop in the price of oil, we see numerous oil companies pulling out of Taranaki – leaving us to clean up the environmental risk. With the current glut in the global price of steel – due to major stockpiles in China – we see ourselves in a similar situation in 35 years time when the mining for iron sands either ends or fails.

Lack of Transparency

We also have a problem with TTR’s overall lack of transparency around this application. It appears the real value of this permit is the fact that it’s locked in for a guaranteed period of time – irrespective of future governments who impose stricter environmental regulation. It’s our firm belief that TTR has no intention of exercising the permit themselves. That their main agenda is to obtain the permit and then to sell it on to the highest bidder – not for the iron sands themselves which can’t be sold profitably in the current market – but for the rare earth minerals (which they mention in their application) which have the potential to be far more lucrative.

Like many other locals, I have major problems with any process that allows multinational corporations, to have precedence over democratic efforts of local people to protect themselves against projects such as this one that allow overseas companies to reap all the profit while forcing local residents to bear all the costs.

 

 

 

 

Our Renewable Future

Richard Heinberg (2016)

In this 2016 presentation, Richard Heinberg talks about his new book (with David Fridley) Our Renewable Future. Both the book and talk focus mainly on the ease with which renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in our current industrial economy. He argues the transition is essential, not only to reduce the impact of catastrophic climate change and ocean acidification, but to address growing global economic and political instability (ie resource wars in the Middle East over dwindling oil and natural gas reserves).

  • Electric power generation – coal and gas-fired power plants are fairly easy to replace with wind and/or solar generation. However Heinberg also argues that homes need to be made more efficient (in terms of heating and cooling) to reduce peak load demand. Renewable technologies are not good at ramping up at short notice. We have had the technical know-how for decades to produce buildings requiring 1/20th of the energy we presently use to heat them. Up until now, we have lacked the political will to change local building codes accordingly.
  • Personal transportation – Heinberg argues that electric cars aren’t a panacea. Because they are so energy intensive to produce, only fairly wealthy people will be able to afford them. He feels there needs to be more focus on increasing public transport and adapting our communities to facilitate active transport, such as walking and cycling.
  • Mass transit – he strongly advocates increased use of rail, by far the most efficient form of transit for both people and freight. For transcontinental travel, high speed trains are much more energy efficient than air travel and are easily electrified.
  • Shipping – ocean freighters are already quite energy efficient compared to air transport. Using kite sails to propel them can reduce their energy consumption by 60%
  • Food production – at present we expend 12 fossil fuel calories for every calorie of food produce. In additions to our chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (all derived from fossil fuels), we also use fossil fuels in food processing and packaging, to run farm machinery and to transport food halfway around the world. The transition in food production has already begun, with strong organic and buy local movements worldwide. Heinberg also supports the growing movement to use sustainable agriculture to sequester carbon ((carbon farming, aka the 4 per 1,000 initiative – see The Soil Solution to Climate Change).
  • Construction – most of our commercial buildings are made of concrete and steel, which both require intensive fossil fuel input in production. Here he recommends a transition to recycled and more natural building materials and a conscious effort to design buildings to human scale. The splurge in high rise construction of the 20th century was only possible due to a glut of cheap fossil fuel.
  • Manufacturing – most manufacturing has already been electrified.
  • Consumer electronics – Heinberg argues we need to make Smartphones more easily upgradable – enabling each of us to purchase one per lifetime. The pressure to replace Smartphones every year is deliberate “planned obsolescence” to increase profits.
  • Plastics, paint, synthetics – natural ingredients (hemp can be used for all three) tends to be cheaper, more durable and less harmful to the environment.

This presentation by anti-GMO and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva focuses on colonialism and its fundamental role in capitalism. She quotes from 17th century philosophers Bacon and Locke, who laid the groundwork for a capitalist philosophy that is clearly at odds with most human needs.

Their determination to “dominate” (in some cases they use the world “rape”) the natural world went hand in hand with early capitalists’ determination to dominate and enslave third world peoples and steal their lands.

Industrial farming is an excellent example of this attempt to “dominate” nature. Although it’s promoted as a method of reducing world hunger, it actually feeds fewer people because it destroys soil, kills pollinators and reduces access to fresh water. Its true purpose is to produce immense profits for a handful of rich capitalists.

At present industrial agriculture, which only produces 20% of the food people eat, is responsible for 70% of global disease and malnutrition and 75% of the damage capitalism causes to the global ecology.

Unbroken Ground: Revolutions Start at the Bottom

Directed by Chris Malloy (2016)

Film Review

Unbroken Ground is about three revolutionary innovations in food production (regenerative agriculture, regenerating grazing and restorative fishing) aimed at increasing long term food security by working with natural processes.

Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is aimed at restoring and preserving topsoil by moving away from corporate monoculture of annual plants. The goal is to support farmers in raising a diversity of perennial staple crops.

At present annual grains (mainly wheat) comprise 70% of the global diet. Plowing topsoil under every year rapidly degrades soil fertility by killing the delicate microorganisms plants depend on for basic nutrients. Dedicating fields to a single monoculture annual hasten this process, necessitating the increasing use of chemical fertilizers and toxic herbicides and pesticides.

The filmmakers visit a group of scientists attempting to develop a perennial variety of wheat by cross breeding it with perennial grasses.

Regenerative grazing

The regenerative grazing movement is restoring the American Great Plains by reintroducing buffalo, the indigenous animals who co-evolved with the native grasses that grow there. Buffalo are 100% grass fed but unlike beef cattle, they don’t kill the grass by eating it down to ground level.

Studies show the animals also significantly increase CO2 sequestration (capture and storage – see The Soil Solution to Climate Change) in areas where they have been introduced.

Restorative Fishing

Restorative fishing uses ancient Native American fishing techniques to enable fishermen to catch their target fish and release non-targeted species back to the ocean unharmed. The process involves creating an artificial reef with nets and plastic strips. The false reef fools the fish into swimming more shallowly, enabling easy capture without harming their gills.

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

SustainableWorld (2014)

Film Review

This informational film, based on the French 4 per 1,000 initiative, proposes an ancient form of carbon sequestration* as an alternative to risky technological methods of carbon sequestration. There is strong scientific consensus that to prevent catastrophic global warming, atmospheric CO2 levels must be reduced from 400 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.

The 4 per 1,000 initiative encourages all UN member countries to increase the carbon in their soils by 0.4% per year by transitioning from industrial agriculture – which tends to strip soil of carbon – to more traditional practices that tend to replenish soil carbon (and simultaneously increase yields: see Organic and Sustainable Farming Increases Yields by 79% or More).

According to the filmmakers, adopting the French initiatiative would also reverse the planet’s rapid depletion of top soil. At present, 50-80% of the world’s top soil has been lost due to loss of carbon. We continue to lose roughly 24 billion tons of topsoil a year due to heavy plowing and use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. All three practices kill important soil organisms responsible for replenishing soil carbon.

This systematic lost of carbon, the fibrous matter we find in soil, also destroys water quality – largely by facilitating run-off of these chemicals into our waterways. Healthy carbon-rich soils absorb and retain water like a sponge, helping to prevent both flooding and drought.

The film finishes by exploring organic farming techniques – increased use of cover cops, plant diversity and planned grazing – that assist plants in sequestering carbon.

For more information about the 4 per 1,000 initiative see Join the 4 per 1000 Initiative


*Carbon sequestration – a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.