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Despite sweltering heat and the apparent denial of visas to more than 200 activists and diplomats from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the World Social Forum kicked off its first full day of activities today in Montreal, with more than 200 workshops on topics such as “Struggles for the defense of land: feminist resistance and solidarity against extractivism,” “Strategies for creating spaces for social engagement and participation in monitoring and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Americas,” and “Fair Trade Hot Topics.”

The proceedings were marred by the absence of the delegates whose visa applications were rejected by the Canadian government, despite months of work by the Forum organizers.  According to an article published in TruthOut, “at least 234 community organization leaders and representatives were denied visitor visas to attend and give presentations at the international conference, including persons who were invited and had Canadian sponsors.”

Organizers estimate that as many as 70% of those who needed visas – mostly people from places other than the USA and Europe – were blocked from attending.  Some U.S. visitors reported annoying treatment by Canadian immigration officers at the border, but they were allowed in.

Given the dispersed nature of the events, spread out among dozens ofP8100077 locations, it was hard to tell how many people were present.  I spent the morning with a couple dozen activists, mostly from the USA and Canada, discussing the imperative of nuclear weapons abolition. 

Just back in the western hemisphere from the World Conference Against A&H Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported that the Japanese peace movement is excited about diplomatic initiatives that may lead to talks next year at the United Nations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. 

P8100064 The nuclear powers, it must be said, are not ready to go along.  But 127 nations have already signed the “humanitarian pledge calling for such a ban, which could ”create a new international atmosphere for negotiations against nuclear weapons,” commented Reiner Braun of the International Peace Bureau. 

Kevin Martin of Peace Action finds in the humanitarian pledge the stirrings of a re-born movement against nuclear weapons,P8100070 which must be  delegitimized by any mechanism we can find.  He also called for following the counsel of Martin Luther King, Jr., and linking struggles for peace and disarmament to those against racism and what Dr. King called “extreme materialism.”

I also sat in on a discussion of “Militarism and Climate Change,” put on by Voice of Women for Peace, a Canadian group.  This featured a call for world military spending to be drastically cut, with the liberated funds used to invest in fossil fuel alternatives.  That’s a good idea, but I hope it’s not the limit of our imagination for addressing the urgent need to rapidly move away from putting more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Afterward, I biked across town to a small theatre for a showing of “Mirar Morir,” a documentary about the disappearance and presumed murders of 43 Mexican college students two years ago.  (You can watch the trailer here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My story about yesterday’s march in New York City is here

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REPORT FROM THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

“A healthy movement has lots of creativity,” Judy commented as we walked down New York’s 42nd Street toward the conclusion of the People’s Climate March.  By that measure, the movement to reverse climate change P9210418is pretty healthy.

Today’s march featured lots of costumes, chants, street theatre, props, dances, puppets, and marching bands as well as slogans galore on banners and signs, many of them hand-made.  Many marchers carried signs that read “I’m marching for…” with a blank space each person could fill.  Organizations also brought printed placards for their members to carry to spread their own messages.

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“To Change Everything We Need Everyone” was an official slogan printed on hand-hed silk-screened banners and large ones carried high above the marchers.    Vanessa Simwerayi, for whom this was her first big march, saidP9210232 she was impressed with the big flat screen displays at several intersections showing solidarity marches taking place all across the world.  “Climate is something everybody has to face,” said Vanessa’s brother, Addy.   Marchers were more diverse in age than race, but it can certainly be said that the climate issue is getting significant attention from an aroused public. 

Participants paused for a moment of silence at about 1 pm, followed by everyone waving their hands and shouting, making a mighty roar that rolled up the avenue.P9210216 

Slogans and chants gave more attention to fracking and tar sands than any other issue, at least in the sections of the march I observed.  I was glad to see a couple P9210355 groups of marchers with banners calling attention to northern New England’s local tar sands threat, the prospect that the Portland-Montreal pipeline could be re-purposed to carry tar sands-derived oil for Montreal to South Portland, Maine. 

Addy Simwerayi said he was pleased to see local community groups calling attention to other social justice issues.

Without a rally at the beginning or end of the march, it was impossible to see or feel the size of the crowd.  It also meant that the march’s message was delivered through the aggregation of varied messages rather than the words of official spokespeople. P9210227 (2)

Stretching for blocks along Central Park West, marchers assembled in good spirits waiting for the procession’s late start.  Our section of the march didn’t start to move until about 2 pm.  Eventually the march started down the avenue and chugged along in high-spirited fits and starts for  a couple of hours, down Central Park West, east on 59th Street, South on Sixth Avenue, and west on 42nd Street to its conclusion on 11th Ave.  Volunteer ‘peacekeepers”  wearing orange t-shirts were dispersed through the crowd to provide information and intervene in the case of unpleasantness.  Unless you count a guy with a battery-powered P/A system haranguing marchers that they should be attending to homelessness and the perils of tobacco instead of the climate, I didn’t see any unpleasantness.

For most of the route marchers occupied the width of the major streets and avenues, with metal barricades separating marchers from pedestrians and onlookers.  New York police were very much in evidence, but didn’t have much to do other than keep their barricades intact.  

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The New Hampshire contingent was organized largely by 350 NH, the local arm of the international action group.  Riding back on the bus, fellow travelers with  internet access reported march organizers were saying there had been more than 300,000 marchers.  From her seat on the bus, Sarah Hubner commented, “I just hope somebody was listening.” 

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Three days after the US State Department issued a 1000-page report that appeared to green light the Keystone XL pipeline project, hundreds of demonstrations against the pipeline and the extraction of Alberta’s tar sands popped up across the USA.  One of them was in Concord, New Hampshire, where forty people stood vigil inconcord 2-3-14 033 front of the State House for an hour Monday evening.

The demonstration was called by 350NH.

The State Department, whose opinion matters because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, reported that the controversial pipeline wouldn’t harm the climate because the tar sands would find their way to refineries, and massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, with or without it. 

The Keystone XL project would carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Albertconcord 2-3-14 007a, Canada across the middle of the USA to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Climate activists point to the danger of toxic spills along the route, but more significantly to the climatic effects of releasing that much carbon to the atmosphere. 

Climate activists are focusing their pressure on the White House, where a decision  will ultimately get made.

While Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline might be the most controversial route for tar sands oil, one alternate route would carry the material across northern New Hampshire in an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal to South Portland, Maine.  The pipeline currently carries conventional oil from Maine to Quebec.  But its corporate owner has proposed changing its purpose to transport tar sands-derived bitumen in the opposite direction, a route that traverses New Hampshire’s Coos County. 

Carol Foss, Conservation Director for the NH Audubon Society, discussed theconcord 2-3-14 048 pipeline earlier this evening on “State House Watch,” a weekly radio show I co-host on WNHN-FM in Concord.    There are 4 bills under consideration in the NH legislature right now, she said, which would increase state oversight of the pipeline in the event its owners choose to use it for tar sands transport.  

Pipeline ruptures in Michigan and Arkansas have shown that fears of toxic spills are realistic.  The fact that one possible pipeline route crosses Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine gives a “local handle” on anti-tar sands organizing.  But organizers should not neglect attention to Alberta, where the tar sands are located, and where extraction is already going on at a rapid pace.

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Crystal Lameman durham 1-28-14 011 of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation highlighted that message during presentations in Concord and Durham last week.  Their communities, already contaminated by the effluent from surface and sub-surface mines, face the most immediate threats.  Lameman said her tribe has filed a legal claim alleging more than 17,000 infringements of treaty rights.  “If these pipelines go through,” she said, “your governments will assist in the raping of the land of my ancestors.”

Forty people is notconcord 2-3-14 031 a lot.  But the fact that so many turned out on short notice to  stand in Concord’s cold is an indication that understanding of the tar sands threat has reached a lot of local homes.  And other demonstrations took place today in Portsmouth, Manchester, and Jefferson, a North Country town along the route of the Montreal-Portland pipeline.

This battle is far from over.

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PORTSMOUTH NH — Kim Richards’ mom scrubbed out her swimming pool before a recent family party at her home in Eliot, Maine. “By the end of the day,” Richards said, “the pool was full of this.” She showed us a photo showing lots of black soot, which she said comes from the Schiller Station coal-fired power plant just across the Piscataqua River in Newington, New Hampshire.

Richards, founder of a grassroots group called Citizens for Clean Air, was one of portsmouth 8-10-13 052 several speakers who addressed an August 10 rally in Portsmouth’s Market Square calling for a shut-down of the region’s few remaining coal-fueled power plants. “Residents of Eliot have long been suspicious,” she said, of Schiller’s atmospheric outputs. She finally got fed up and started a petition calling for an EPA investigation and got a resolution critical of Schiller adopted by the town.

“We will not stand idly by and let big corporations determine our living conditions,” she called out to the crowd of several dozen people outside Portsmouth’s North Church.

It’s not just soot and sulfur that motivated the turn-out, though. Mostly it’s the carbon, which is also emitted by Schiller, that aroused people concerned about  changes in the earth’s climate. “A coal-free future” was the focus of the rally, the first portsmouth 8-10-13 022 organized by 350 NH, an affiliate of the global activist group 350.org.

“Shut down Schiller. It’s a killer. Wind is clean. Let’s be green,” participants chanted.

Schiller is the region’s oldest and least efficient power plant in New England, “the baddest of the bunch,” said long-time activist Doug Bogen, “It deserves to be shut down,” he said.

Moreover, the potential of wind power is not just some green fantasy, Bogen insisted. Construction of wind turbines off the coast of New England could generate as much as 150,000 megawatts of power, enough to electrify the entire East Coast,portsmouth 8-10-13 103 he said, citing reports from the federal Department of Energy and the State of Maine.  Construction of the turbines—800 could be used off the coast of Maine—would also generate lots of jobs, twice as many as the coal industry.

Bogen is promoting a concept that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard be re-tooled for manufacture of offshore wind turbines. As a major industrial facility with a skilled workforce, located at a deep-water port, the Navy Yard would be an ideal site, he said, noting as well that an economic future built on wind power has other advantages over one dependent on the overhaul of the Navy’s nuclear submarines.

Bogen’s statement that we are either at the “sunset of a declining society or the dawn of a new one” may have been a tad apocalyptic, but his point was well taken. It is past time for commitment to a post-coal economy.

Jay O’Hara spoke of an aquatic route to the dawn of a new society. On May 15 he portsmouth 8-10-13 070 piloted a lobster boat named “Henry David T” into the path of a freighter delivering 40,000 tons of Appalachian coal to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. He and his colleague, Ken Ward, were arrested. Now facing five charges (negligent operation of a vessel, failure to act to avoid collision, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and conspiracy), O’Hara told the rally “our job is to make it clear what the moral ramifications of our actions are.”

It will take many kinds of actions to make a serious dent in fossil fuel use. Petitions,portsmouth 8-10-13 009 research, engineering proposals, rallies, leaflets handed to Market Square tourists, and dramatic nonviolent acts of civil disobedience are all called for. To its credit, 350.org and its offshoots take an all-of-the-above approach. Its leaders also appear to respect the role of culture and humor. That’s why the Market Square rally concluded with a skit pitting Mother Earth against Mean Mister Coal.

Yes, it may have been a bit ironic to hear the Leftist Marching Band performing “Which Side Are You On,” an anthem of Appalachian coal miner unions, at a demonstration calling for the shut-down of the coal industry. That song’s spirit, which deals with resistance to corporate domination, was not out of place. But it also stands as a helpful reminder that the climate movement would do well to devote more attention to the transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar and what will happen to actual workers along the way. There are moral ramifications, as well as political and economic ones, to the choices we have before us.

Click here to find 350 NH on Facebook. 

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You Have Nothing to Lose but the Nukes, and a Solar Future to Gain!

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Stephen Comley addresses the Clams on the World Fellowship lawn.

Ever heard of the “bathtub curve?” It’s a principle of reliability engineering that illustrates the failure rates for technology. When a form of technology is new, it has a high failure rate. As the bugs get worked out, failure rates decline. But as the productbathtub curves age, failure rates rise again.

Paul Gunter says the bathtub curve is useful for understanding nuclear reactors. Disasters at Three  Mile Island and Chernobyl represented catastrophic failures of relatively new reactors. Fukushima would be an example of failure for an aging reactor. The aging of the US reactor “fleet” means “this is the most dangerous time,” Gunter said.

With backing from the Cheney and Obama administrations, the industry promised a 21st century nuclear renaissance and promoted itself as a replacement for fossil fuels. Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford says “the renaissance story line was hard to resist.”

“By early 2009,” he writes, “applications for 31 new reactors were pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The promises came garnished with tales of remorseful changes of heart from oft-obscure nuclear converts. With few exceptions, the news media – especially television with its thirst for the short and the simple – fell for the renaissance story line.”

In a foreword to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, Bradford writes of the supposed renaissance, “It is all in ruins now. The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others lingering on in search of a license, which is good for 20 years. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains to be taken from any electric customer’s pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in fifteen years.”

Or as Paul Gunter put it, industry has gone from the “too cheap to meter” line of the 1950s and ‘60s to the reality of “too expensive to matter.”

Gunter, a Clamshell founder who is now co-director of Beyond Nuclear, was one of several speakers at last weekend’s Clamshell Alliance Reunion, held at PAUL40world fellowship july 2013 285World Fellowship in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The annual event is part social, part educational, part planning and plotting for a community of activists who met in the No Nukes days of the 1970s and 80s.

Other speakers included Doug Bogen, who’s been promoting the potential of offshore windpower from floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine; Naoto Inoue, a solar entrepreneur from Arundel, Maine; and Stephen Comley, who woke up to the dangers of nuclear power when an NRC official told him to stock upon potassium iodide pills for the the residents of his Rowley, MA nursing home, 12 miles from the Seabrook reactor.

Spurred to action, Comley organized 80% of town residents to sign a petition for Seabrook to be shut down. As a long-time Republican activist, he even delivered the petitions in person to President Ronald Reagan. He is still talking about nuclear dangers, especially his allegation that counterfeit, substandard parts were installed at 72 reactors, a fact revealed to him years ago by an industry insider. Comley started a group, “We the People,” to collect such stories and try to get action from people in high places. At this time he’s trying to communicate with Michelle Obama in hopes that she can get through to her husband.naoto04world fellowship july 2013 276

Paul Gunter said “climate change needs to motivate all of us.” That’s why it was great to hear from Naoto Inoue, who heads Talmage Solar Engineering in  Arundel, Maine. From installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at homes on the coast of Maine, Inoue has taken the plunge into large-scale solar generation with a 2.2 megawatt PV installation in Sharon, Vermont. With support from Vermont’s pilot “feed-in tariff” program, the solar array can economically provide enough electricity for the entire town.

Doug Bogen says offshore wind is another viable alternative. The state of Maine has a commitmDOUG03world fellowship july 2013 138ent to support 5000 megawatts of capacity in the next 20 years, by coincidence the date the Seabrook reactor’s license is due to expire. We can’t rely on wind for 100% of our energy needs, he said, but the potential is  there to replace New England’s aging nuclear plants and phase out fossil fuel plants as well. Bogen is promoting the idea that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a massive industrial facility sited on a deep water port, would be the perfect place for the massive wind turbines to be manufactured.

The Clams also heard some words of wisdom from Peter Kellman. peter17world fellowship july 2013 321Whatever struggle you’re in, says the veteran organizer, never forget “the big picture.”

I was also grateful to spend some time with Sukie Rice, a former American Friends Service Committee staff member who conducted nonviolence training workshops for early Clamshell demonstrations at Seabrook.  She recalled meetings in the spring of 1976 at which Clamshell organizers agreed to adopt nonviolence as a guiding principle for direct action.  “If what they wanted was for New Hampshire residents to see them as legitimate, they would have to act in the manner of nonviolence,” she recalled.  It was Elizabeth Boardman, she said, who introduced the Quaker principle of consensus decision-making.  The use of affinity groups and “spokes” meetings came from the experience of the Cambridge-based Nonviolent Direct Action Group, an anti-war project of the early ‘70s.  From early on, she said, “I knew it was the start of something big.” 

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350 Maine Holds Demonstration at Sebago Lake

A pipeline running northwest from South Portland, Maine across New Hampshire’s North Country and Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on its way to Montreal has been carrying crude oil since it was built in 1941. When the Portland Pipe Line

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Corporation, which owns and operates the line, announced in 2010 that it would study reversing the flow and carrying oil from Montreal to Maine, it touched off resistance among activists paying attention to the controversies over extraction and shipment of oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Yesterday more than 150 of those activists rallied at Maine’s Sebago Lake State Park, which borders the pipeline and would be directly threatened by a pipel7-21-13 sebago lake 133ine leak like the one that spilled 800,000 gallons of toxics into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in July 2010.

“You would never know there was a pipeline under our feet,” said Chloe Maxmin, a  21-year old Maine resident and Harvard student who started a project to force the Cambridge institution to divest its holdings in fossil fuel corporations. The pipeline corridor is marked by non-descript yellow signs within sight of the lake, which not only provides recreational opportunities but also supplies drinking water to Portland.

Maxmin said she initiated the divestment project when she realized Portland Pipe Line is 65% owned by Exxon Mobil.

The dangers to the environment posed by tar sands extraction are increasingly well known, thanks mostly to those who have been resisting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands project to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Because the tar sands oil, also called “bitumen,” is so thick, extraction requires injection of steam and solvents, which 7-21-13 sebago lake 003means that huge amounts of energy are needed to make its energy available for human use. Moreover, transportation of the highly viscous substance via pipelines over long distances requires it to be diluted with toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene,  and xylene.

The oil spill danger was dramatized by a skit staged by Lee Chisholm, with a few dozen volunteers hoisting a pipeline model, unrolling a black tarp  representing an oil spill into the lake, and “poisoning” a flotilla of activists in inner tubes.

Activists chanted “Our water, our land, our future, no tar sands,” and sang new words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” (Despite the valiant efforts of organizers to instill a spirit of creativity into the demonstration, some 7-21-13 sebago lake 131participants couldn’t resist chanting “hey hey ho ho, tar sands have got to go.”)

The rally, which sadly was isolated from the sight of most people enjoying yesterday’s sun at Sebago Lake, was organized by 350 Maine, the local affiliate of 350.org, the now-global movement to raise awareness about climate change and the need to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels. The event was kicked off with spirit by Melodeego, a Boston-based band whose performance was powered by four volunteers pedaling a bicycle generator. Following the skit, a short rally featured talks by Chloe Maxmin; Connie Cross, who led a campaign for passage of a town resolution opposing the use of the pipeline for7-21-13 sebago lake 047 tar sands oil; Carol Masterson, a South Portland artist organizing local opposition at the site where the pipeline starts (or ends); Sylvia Stormwalker, a Maine activist who has been  working with XL opponents in Texas; Reed Brugger, a 350 Maine activist who was recently arrested with a group trying to block a train carrying fracked oil from North Dakota; and 350.org founder Bill McKibben.

McKibben said the threat of climate change was rather obscure a few years ago, but “there’s nothing abstract about it now.” Although it may be too late to reverse the damage, he said, “we can stop an awful lot of this insanity.”

Instead of a model based on charismatic leaders and big organizations, McKibben 7-21-13 sebago lake 049 called for “an inter-connected resistance that really works.” Yesterday’s action was “exactly the kind of action that makes a change,” he said, a good example of the “action, spirit, and creativity” the movement needs.

“No one’s going to put tar sands oil through New England,” McKibben insisted, due to active resistance from people in Maine and Vermont. I don’t know whether his omission of New Hampshire is a reflection on the health of the state’s environmental movement, but it will at least prod me to learn a bit more about the pipeline corridor from its Shelburne pump station near the Maine line to the Lancaster pump station on the Vermont side.

Pipeline safety is overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the US Department of Transportation, and also by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. According to its web page,

“The federal government establishes minimum pipeline safety standards under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 49 "Transportation", Parts 190 – 199. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), within the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has overall regulatory responsibility for hazardous liquid and gas pipelines under its jurisdiction in the United States.

“OPS is headquartered in Washington, DC, and supported through five regional offices located in Trenton, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO; Houston, TX; and Denver, CO. OPS regional directors, pipeline inspectors/investigators, and community assistance and technical services (CATS) managers operate from each of the five OPS regional offices.

CATS managers are available to assist the public and state or local 7-21-13 sebago lake 007 officials with inquiries concerning pipeline safety-related issues.

“OPS inspects and enforces the pipeline safety regulations for interstate gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators in New Hampshire. OPS also inspects and enforces the pipeline safety regulations for intrastate hazardous liquid pipeline operators in New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission shares responsibility for safety enforcement. Whether the PUC would have to approve a proposal to reverse the pipeline flow and use it to carry tar sands oil instead of crude is not known to me.

Dangers of pipeline spills may be a secondary concern to the planetary impact of7-21-13 sebago lake 068 extracting and burning tar sands oil, but the dangers are real and serve to localize an issue that might otherwise seem far away.

350 New Hampshire activists will rally at Portsmouth’s Market Square on Saturday, August 10, from 10 am to 1 pm. Members of 350 Maine are planning to join a demonstration next week at Brayton Point, in Somerset MA, site of New England’s largest coal-fired power plant.

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