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by Alex Knight, 1/6/17
Republished on Countercurrents.
In 2000, I was 17 years old. I didn’t know the first thing about politics, history, or social change. My first preference in the U.S. Presidential Election was for George W. Bush.[i] Somehow in my ignorance I had figured out that the Democrats were the more popular party, and I reviled what was popular. The President for the last eight years had been a Democrat. I also knew that the society I lived in sucked. It sucked for teenage me, and it sucked in general. So, without any deeper thought on the subject, my infantile rebellion led me to the only alternative in a two-party system, the Republicans. Once again in 2016, “non-college educated white men” like my teenage self followed similar logic to give Donald Trump just enough votes to sneak into the White House. When asked in exit polls what was the “quality that mattered most” in deciding who to vote for, the number one quality voters sought was a candidate who “can bring change.” Of those change-seeking voters, 83% were captured by Trump.
After the election, it’s tempting to curl up into a state of shock and surrender to fear or apathy. The U.S. voting public just elected someone who is openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic. 30 states were won by a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, led a campaign to delegitimize the nation’s first Black president by questioning his citizenship, and wants to build a giant wall on the Mexican border to keep out poor immigrants who he called “rapists.” The people he’s now appointing to run organs of government are quite literally the very worst people in the country, whose entire careers have been based on undermining social and ecological protections. The future looks bleak. Is neo-fascism already here?
In our deeply cynical society, it is the task of revolutionaries to see the silver lining of hope that has just opened before us. We must appreciate that this moment is a great opportunity for radicalizing the millions of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Donald Trump is the most disliked major-party candidate to ever run for the Presidency. The election of a despised, buffoonish, billionaire capitalist to head the U.S. government provides anti-capitalists with a glaring demonstration that the system does not work.
In this article we will review how a figure as polarizing as Trump was propelled to become a viable candidate through the mass media’s obsession with celebrity and scandal. We will also explore how the failure of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party reflects the collapse of legitimacy for the status quo and its neoliberal capitalist project. Finally, we will face the threat of neo-fascism and explore what progressive radicals can offer now that a uniquely dangerous, yet uniquely unpopular, man is about to become the face of the U.S. government.
In the years after Bush II was elected, I was fortunate enough to encounter anti-capitalists who showed me and invited me into the amazing tradition of grassroots organizing. I was able to discover an alternative path where my teenage frustrations were sharpened into anti-capitalist critique and a lifelong commitment to social justice. It is now my calling to pay forward the gift that was given to me. We have a choice on how to respond to the election. We can either spend the next 4-8 years wallowing in fears of how everything can go wrong, or we can recognize the special opportunity we have to provide a path for people to discover genuine change, community, and meaning that can only come through participation in radical social movements.
A Billionaire Cartoon Villain is About to Become US President
(In the next two sections, we will analyze how the election reveals the dysfunction of the electoral system and mass media. To jump to the repercussions and how to respond moving forward, click here.)
The system has failed and Donald Trump is the personification of that failure. Before the election, only 38% of the American public had a “favorable” opinion of Trump, as compared with 58% “unfavorable.” That -20% margin makes Donald Trump literally the most unfavorable candidate ever to get the endorsement of a major US political party. Significantly, Hillary Clinton was the second-most unfavorable candidate ever, with a -12.6% gap.
The historic unpopularity of the two major candidates drove down turnout for the two major parties:
The US adult population grows by about 10 million people per 4-year election cycle. While the raw vote totals have remained somewhat stable, support for the two major parties proportional to US population has decayed since 2008. Consequently, 8 million people voted for “third party” candidates in 2016, which is more than in any election since 1996. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party combined for nearly 6 million votes. By comparison, Ralph Nader in 2000 was attacked as a spoiler for getting less than half that total. Putting Trump’s victory in perspective: it’s important to remember that 54% of voters, and nearly 75% of American adults, did not vote for Trump.
Happy Mothers Day! Many people have asked me if I’m still writing. The answer is yes! Right now, I’m working on a big article on the history of activism at my alma mater, Lehigh University. First, though, I’d like to post this email exchange I had with a reader – Gabriela Castillo from Australia.
GC – Was it at your intention to create endofcapitalism.com to educate your viewers to improve the current state of our economy under capitalism?
AK – I created the website The End of Capitalism in 2006, after I had written my Master’s Thesis on the subject at Lehigh University. My intention was, and remains to be, to explore the question of whether the global capitalist system is endangered by the combined social and ecological crises which capitalism itself has produced. My hypothesis is that it is.
GC – In what ways do you think capitalism is to blame for global warming?
AK – Global warming is a direct result of the massive, industrial, systematic combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. This systematic combustion of fuels provides the energy for the capitalist economy to function as it does. Coal combustion provides electricity, gas combustion provides heating, and oil combustion provides the transportation necessary to move the enormous quantity of goods and products which are pumped out of low-wage industrial centers in the Global South to consumers in the North.
Without fossil fuels, capitalism in its current form could not exist, which is why with Peak Energy looming, capitalism faces a very uncertain future. The only question, in my mind, is whether the capitalist economy will collapse fast enough or soon enough to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of global warming, which according to some scientists, could mean the end of the Earth as a livable planet. My hope is that this will be avoided, but only through a global democratic movement which re-orients society along the lines of social and ecological justice.
This was written in the Fall of 2010. Although the complete series will remain unfinished for some time, I am publishing these finished sections because when you put hundreds of hours into something, it makes more sense to share what you’ve produced than to keep it in the closet forever. [alex]
Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl
by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Part 3.1 – September 19, 2011
This is part of an essay critiquing the philosophy of Karl Marx for its relevance to 21st century anti-capitalism. The main thrust of the essay is to encourage living common-sense radicalism, as opposed to the automatic reproduction of zombie ideas which have lost connection to current reality. Karl Marx was no prophet. But neither can we reject him. We have to go beyond him, and bring him with us. I believe it is only on such a basis, with a critical appraisal of Marx, that the Left can become ideologically relevant to today’s rapidly evolving political circumstances. [Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.]
What Marx Got Wrong
Although Karl Marx provided us crucial and brilliant anti-capitalist critiques as explored in Part 2, he also contributed several key theoretical errors which continue to haunt the Left. Instead of mindlessly reproducing these dead ideas into contexts where they no longer make sense, we must expose the decay and separate it from the parts of Marx’s thought which are still alive and relevant.
I have narrowed down my objections to five core problems: 1. Linear March of History, 2. Europe as Liberator, 3. Mysticism of the Proletariat, 4. The State, and 5. A Secular Dogma.
I submit that Marx’s foremost shortcoming was his theory of history as a linear progression of higher and higher stages of human society, culminating in the utopia of communism. According to Marx, this “progress” was manifest in the “development of productive forces,” or the ability of humans to remake the world in their own image. The danger of this idea is that it wrongly ascribes an “advance” to the growth of class society. In particular, capitalism is seen as a “necessary” precursor to socialism. This logic implicitly justifies not only the domination of nature by humanity, but the dominance of men over women, and the dominance of Europeans over people of other cultures.
Marx’s elevation of the “proletariat” as the agent of history also created a narrow vision for human emancipation, locating the terrain of liberation within the workplace, rather than outside of it. This, combined with a naive and problematic understanding of the State, only dispensed more theoretical fog that has clouded the thinking of revolutionary strategy for more than a century. Finally, by binding the hopes and dreams of the world into a deterministic formula of economic law, Marx inadvertently created the potential for tragic dogmatism and sectarianism, his followers fighting over who possessed the “correct” interpretation of historical forces.
(These mistakes have become especially apparent with hindsight, after Marxists have attempted to put these ideas into practice over the last 150 years. The goal here is not to fault Marx for failing to see the future, but rather to fault what he actually said, which was wrong in his own time, and is disastrous in ours. In this section I will limit my criticisms to Marx’s ideas only, and deal with the monstrous legacy of “actually existing” Marxism in Part 4.)
“Rooted in early industrialization and a teleological materialism that assumed progress towards communism was inevitable, traditional Marxist historiography grossly oversimplified real history into a series of linear steps and straightforward transitions, with more advanced stages inexorably supplanting more backward ones. Nowadays we know better. History is wildly contingent and unpredictable. Many alternate paths leave from the current moment, as they have from every previous moment too” – Chris Carlsson, Nowtopia (41).
Much of what is wrong in Marx stems from a deterministic conception of historical development, which imagines that the advance and concentration of economic power is necessarily progressive. According to this view, human liberation, which Marx calls communism, can only exist atop the immense productivity and industrial might of capitalism. All of human history, therefore, is nothing but “progressive epochs in the economic formation of society,” as Marx calls it in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859):
“In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production… the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism [communism].” Read the rest of this entry »
Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl
by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Part 1 – October 29, 2010
[Click to see Part 2]
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” – Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852
“Once again the dead are walking in our midst – ironically, draped in the name of Marx, the man who tried to bury the dead of the nineteenth century.” – Murray Bookchin, Listen, Marxist!, 1969
A specter is haunting the Left, the specter of Karl Marx.
In June, my friend Joanna and I presented a workshop at the 2010 US Social Forum, an enormous convergence of progressive social movements from across the United States. The USSF is “more than a conference”, it’s a gathering of movements and thinkers to assess our historic moment of economic and ecological crisis, and generate strategies for moving towards “Another World”.
Our workshop, entitled “The End of Capitalism? At the Crossroads of Crisis and Sustainability”, was packed. A surprising number of people were both intrigued and supportive of our presentation that global capitalism is in a deep crisis because it faces ecological and social limits to growth, from peak oil to popular resistance around the wold. Participants eagerly discussed the proposal that the U.S. is approaching a crossroads with two paths out: one through neo-fascist attempts to restore the myth of the “American Dream” with attacks on Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized groups; the other, a path of realizing and deepening the core values of freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love.
Despite the lively audience, I knew that somewhere lurking in that cramped, overheated classroom was the unquestionable presence of Zombie-Marxism.1 And I knew it was only a matter of time until it showed itself and hungrily charged at our fresh anti-capitalist analysis in the name of Karl Marx’s high authority on the subject.
It happened during the question and answer period. A visibly agitated member of one of the dozens of small Marxist sectarian groups swarming these sorts of gatherings raised his hand to speak. I hesitated to call on him. I knew he wasn’t going to ask a question, but instead to speechify, to roll out a pre-rehearsed statement from his Party line. I called on others first, but his hand stayed in the air, sweat permeating his brow. Perhaps by mistake or perhaps from a feeling of guilt I gave him the nod to release what was incessantly welling up in his throat.
“I don’t agree with this stuff about ecological limits to growth. Marx wrote in Capital that the system faces crisis because of fundamental cycles of stagnation that cause the falling rate of profit…”
With the resurrection of Marx’s ancient wisdom, a dangerous infection was released into the discussion. Clear, rational thought, based on evaluating current circumstances and real-life issues in all their fluid complexities and contradictions, was threatened by an antiquated and stagnant dogma that single-mindedly sees all situations as excuses to reproduce itself in the minds of the young and vital.
Marx didn’t articulate his ideas because they appeared true in his time and place. No. The ideas are true because Marx said them. Such is the logic. If I didn’t act fast, the workshop could surrender the search for truth – to the search for brains.
I would have to cut this guy off and call on someone else. I knew better than to try to respond to his “question” – it would only tighten his grip on decades of certainty and derail the real conversation. Unfortunately, there is no way to slay a zombie. Regardless of the accuracy or firepower in your logic, zombie ideas will just keep coming. The only way out of an encounter with the undead is to escape.
I motioned my hand to signal ‘enough’ and tried to raise my voice over his. “Thank you. OK, THANK you! Yes. Marx was a very smart dude. OK, next?”
Karl Marx was without a doubt one of the greatest European philosophers of the 19th century. In a context of rapid industrialization and growing inequality between rich and poor, Marx pinpointed capitalism as the source of this misery and spelled out his theory of historical materialism, which endures today as deeply relevant for understanding human society. He emphasized that capitalism arose from certain economic and social conditions, and therefore it will inevitably be made obsolete by a new way of life.
For me, what makes Marx’s work so powerful is that he told a compelling story about humanity and our purpose. It was a big-picture narrative of economy and society, oppression and liberation, set on a global stage. Marx constructed a new way of understanding the world – a new world-view – which gave meaning and direction to those disenchanted with the dominant capitalist belief system. And in crafting this world-view, Marx happened to do a pretty good job wielding the tools of philosophy, political economy and science, aiming to deconstruct how capitalism functions and disclose its contradictions, so that we might overcome it and create a better future.
Brilliant ideas flowed from this effort, including his analysis of class inequality, the concepts of “base” and “superstructure”, and the liberating theory of “alienated labor.” Marx also showed that the inner workings of capital live off economic growth, and if this growth is limited, crisis will ensue and throw the entire social order into jeopardy. For all these reasons, Marxist politics – the Marxist story – remains popular and relevant today.
But due to serious errors and ambiguities in Marx’s analysis, Marxism has failed to provide an accessible, coherent, and accurate theoretical framework to free the world of capitalist tyranny. Read the rest of this entry »
Climate chaos has gone to new extremes this summer, with Pakistan drowning in unprecedented floods due to the melting of the snow capped Himalayas, Russia cooking at 110 degrees, and an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan breaking off the top of northern Greenland. See Democracy Now!’s coverage of these climate catastrophes.
Why hasn’t the U.S. Congress done anything to stop global warming? The answer is capitalism. As the new website DirtyEnergyMoney.com documents, the oil and coal industries have spent over $100 million in the past decade to buy congressmen and stop legislation that threatens their profit margins. The environmental movement therefore faces a crossroads: continue to compromise and waste time talking to corrupt Senators, or go out to the streets and organize people for more radical solutions. Bill McKibben, one of the most respected voices in environmentalism, says: time for Plan B. [alex]
We’re Hot as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Any More
Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming
Try to fit these facts together:
* According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.
* A “staggering” new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.
* Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees. I can turn my oven to 130 degrees.
* And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. They didn’t do less than they could have — they did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.
I wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming back in 1989, and I’ve spent the subsequent 21 years working on the issue. I’m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Not quick to anger. So what I want to say is: this is fucked up. The time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.
For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by a collection of the most corporate and moderate environmental groups, outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you’re supposed to: they wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly, and compromised at every turn.
By the time they were done, they had a bill that only capped carbon emissions from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely you could actually hear the oinking. They bent over backwards like Soviet gymnasts. Senator John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.”
And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone — not just Reid, not just the Republicans. Even President Obama wouldn’t lend a hand, investing not a penny of his political capital in the fight.
The result: total defeat, no moral victories.
So now we know what we didn’t before: making nice doesn’t work. It was worth a try, and I’m completely serious when I say I’m grateful they made the effort, but it didn’t even come close to working. So we better try something else. Read the rest of this entry »
check out this podcast of me being interviewed by Todd Curl. I’m excited to have my views recorded on audio for the first time. in this extensive 2-hour interview, I discuss:
- my hometown of Ambler, PA and its history with asbestos
- my life story of becoming politically aware and active
- peak oil and its interpretations
- the end of capitalism theory
- the nature of capitalism and enclosure
- resistance in China, Arizona, and around the world
- how radicals can use language to speak to everyday people
- healing from abuse and empowering ourselves to live better lives
here it is (click to play audio): Alex Knight Podcast
The Pigeon Post, August 2, 2010
Here is the interview I did with Alex Knight on Friday, July 30, 2010 at Alex’s home in Philadelphia:
At just 27 years old, Alex is already an accomplished writer and a full time activist for social justice. His site, The End of Capitalism, explores the theory of the unsustainable nature of a profit-driven global system that continues to exploit all of the earth’s resources for the sake of greed and power.
Having grown up in Ambler, Pennsylvania — the ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’ — Alex saw first hand the devastation of his home town through the greed of Keasbey and Mattison Corporation who continued to manufacture Asbestos through the 1970s despite the evidence that had existed for years that Asbestos causes Mesothelioma, a serious form of Lung Cancer.
Seeing the sickness of his community first hand eventually built the foundation for Alex’s future environmental and social activism. While at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Alex became more intellectually aware of the systemic patterns of exploitation and human/environmental devastation brought on by a long history of a Capitalist system concerned only with profit. Alex went on to get his Master’s in Political Science from Lehigh and now is a full-time activist in the Philadelphia area fighting for real and meaningful progressive change.
As Alex will tell you, there is nothing extraordinary about him. Being the quintessential “All American Boy” — he was born on the 4th of July — Alex discovered that real social change is ameliorated when we decide to join forces and fight the powers that are determined to keep us placated and in a constant state of fear so we will not question our own imprisonment of thought and continue to consume without thought or premeditation. For Alex, grassroots organizing and activism is the key to a sustainable future and when we define ourselves as left, right, Marxist, Anarchist, etc.. we just perpetuate petty semantic divides. Alex is proud to call himself “Progressive” as he is a tireless fighter for justice.
Republished by Energy Bulletin, Countercurrents and OpEdNews.
The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.
This is the final part of a four-part interview. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.
Part 3. Life After Capitalism
MC: Moving forward, how would you ideally envision a post-capitalist world? And if capitalism manages to survive (as it has in the past), is there still room for real change?
AK: First let me repeat that even if my theory is right that capitalism is breaking down, it doesn’t suggest that we’ll automatically find ourselves living in a utopia soon. This crisis is an opportunity for us progressives but it is also an opportunity for right-wing forces. If the right seizes the initiative, I fear they could give rise to neo-fascism – a system in which freedoms are enclosed and violated for the purpose of restoring a mythical idea of national glory.
I think this threat is especially credible here in the United States, where in recent years we’ve seen the USA PATRIOT Act, the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are “persons,” and the stripping of constitutional rights from those labeled “terrorists,” “enemy combatants”, as well as “illegals.” Arizona’s attempt to institute a racial profiling law and turn every police officer into an immigration official may be the face of fascism in America today. Angry whites joining together with the repressive forces of the state to terrorize a marginalized community, Latino immigrants. While we have a black president now, white supremacist sentiment remains widespread in this country, and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. So as we struggle for a better world we may also have to contend with increasing authoritarianism.
I should also state up front that I have no interest in “writing recipes for the cooks of the future.” I can’t prescribe the ideal post-capitalist world and I wouldn’t try. People will create solutions to the crises they face according to what makes most sense in their circumstances. In fact they’re already doing this. Yet, I would like to see your question addressed towards the public at large, and discussed in schools, workplaces, and communities. If we have an open conversation about what a better world would look like, this is where the best solutions will come from. Plus, the practice of imagination will give people a stronger investment in wanting the future to turn out better. So I’ll put forward some of my ideas for life beyond capitalism, in the hope that it spurs others to articulate their visions and initiate conversation on the world we want.
My personal vision has been shaped by my outrage over the two fundamental crises that capitalism has perpetrated: the ecological crisis and the social crisis. I see capitalism as a system of abuse. The system grows by exploiting people and the planet as means to extract profit, and by refusing to be responsible for the ecological and social trauma caused by its abuse. Therefore I believe any real solutions to our problems must be aligned to both ecological justice and social justice. If we privilege one over the other, we will only cause more harm. The planet must be healed, and our communities must be healed as well. I would propose these two goals as a starting point to the discussion.
How do we heal? What does healing look like? Let me expand from there.
Five Guideposts to a New World
I mentioned in response to the first question that I view freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love as guideposts that point towards a new world. This follows from what I call a common sense radical approach, because it is not about pulling vision for the future from some ideological playbook or dogma, but from lived experience. Rather than taking pre-formed ideas and trying to make reality fit that conceptual blueprint, ideas should spring from what makes sense on the ground. The five guideposts come from our common values. It doesn’t take an expert to understand them or put them into practice.
In the first section I described how freedom at its core is about self-determination. I said that defined this way it presents a radical challenge to capitalist society because it highlights the lack of power we have under capitalism. We do not have self-determination, and we cannot as long as huge corporations and corrupt politicians control our destinies.
I’ll add that access to land is fundamental to a meaningful definition of freedom. The group Take Back the Land has highlighted this through their work to move homeless and foreclosed families directly into vacant homes in Miami. Everyone needs access to land for the basic security of housing, but also for the ability to feed themselves. Without “food sovereignty,” or the power to provide for one’s own family, community or nation with healthy, culturally and ecologically appropriate food, freedom cannot exist. The best way to ensure that communities have food sovereignty is to ensure they have access to land.
Similarly, a deeper interpretation of democracy would emphasize participation by an individual or community in the decisions that affect them. For this definition I follow in the footsteps of Ella Baker, the mighty civil rights organizer who championed the idea of participatory democracy. With a lifelong focus on empowering ordinary people to solve their own problems, Ella Baker is known for saying “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This was the philosophy of the black students who sat-in at lunch counters in the South to win their right to public accommodations. They didn’t wait for the law to change, or for adults to tell them to do it. The students recognized that society was wrong, and practiced non-violent civil disobedience , becoming empowered by their actions. Then with Ms. Baker’s support they formed the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized poor blacks in Mississippi to demand their right to vote, passing on the torch of empowerment.
We need to be empowered to manage our own affairs on a large scale. In a participatory democracy, “we, the people” would run the show, not representatives who depend on corporate funding to get elected. “By the people, for the people, of the people” are great words. What if we actually put those words into action in the government, the economy, the media, and all the institutions that affect our lives? Institutions should obey the will of the people, rather than the people obeying the will of institutions. It can happen, but only through organization and active participation of the people as a whole. We must empower ourselves, not wait for someone else to do it. Read the rest of this entry »
The tar sands are an abomination. In a desperate move to counteract peak oil, Canada and the United States are waging war on Alberta’s ecosystem and indigenous communities, as well as on the planet as a whole. This crime must be stopped.
Clayton Thomas-Muller also recently spoke on Democracy Now!, see the video. [alex]
Tar Sands: The World’s Largest Climate Crime
By Clayton Thomas-Muller
Published originally in Left Turn Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010
Often when one looks at the global climate crisis and the critical necessity of forests as carbon storehouses, we have visions of the Amazon rainforest in South America, or the vast rainforest cover in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, across south East Asia and Africa. What many don’t envision is the second largest carbon storehouse on Mother Earth located in Canada’s northern region known as the Boreal Forest.
This soggy, wet, biologically diverse region spreads across the continent east to west. It is home to hundreds of First Nations/Indigenous communities that have utilized these ecologically diverse regions for their livelihood from time immemorial. Many also do not know that the Boreal Forest is second only to the Amazon region in terms of daily forest loss due to industrial expansion. This tree loss is further exacerbated by an infestation of the spruce pine beetle, brought on by milder winters in the north, which has been destroying millions of hectares of trees from southeast Alaska all the way to western Alberta.
Also found beneath the pine-covered ground are vast stores of minerals and fossil fuel deposits, the most famous of which is known as Canada’s Athabasca Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. Second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of recoverable oil reserves, Canada’s tar sands have an estimated 177 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The main difference between these two sources is the fact that the tar sands in Canada are not a conventional form of oil; they are a tarry clay and sand like mixture that at room temperature is hard as a hockey puck.
To remove this oil, one of two methods must be used. The first is surface mining, where industry removes the top layer of muskeg, trees, clay and sand as well as lakes, streams and even rivers to depths of up to 300 feet. They then use the world’s largest steam shovels, earth movers and dump trucks (300 tons per load) to strip mine out the mix that is then hauled off to industrial upgrader facilities and processed into synthetic oil. In the end it works out to around 5 tons of earth for every barrel of oil. Every day they move enough earth to fill the famous home of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Sky Dome.
If the deposits are more than a depth of 300 feet, producers must use a deep well injection process called “In Situ” or Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAG-D). This process is six times more carbon and water intensive then conventional oil extraction. The industry must also utilize vast amounts of natural gas to superheat fresh water to be injected into Mother Earth to “melt” the bitumen that then is sucked out of the ground with uptake pipes for upgrading.
Thanks to the 600 million cubic feet of natural gas is burned every day for this type of extraction, the tar sands is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in Canada, and the primary reason Canada is not fulfilling its legally binding emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. By 2030 at the current rate of expansion, the tar sands will be responsible for an emission level between 100-187 million tons of CO2 every year.
Probably most disturbing part of this extraction process are the runoff streams created by the use of water in the separation process. Once water is no longer usable it is dumped into a vast network of ten tailings ponds that can be seen from outer space. Every day these tailings ponds leak eleven million liters of contaminated water into the Athabasca River and ground water in the surrounding area. By the year 2030 if the tar sands continue to grow at the current rate of expansion these tailings ponds volume combined will represent a body of water as large as Lake Ontario.
As a result of this “Tarmageddon,” many local Indigenous communities have seen an increase in the presence of deadly forms of cancers and other autoimmune diseases in their populations. Many have observed the negative effects on critical traditional food sources such as the fish, moose, muskrat, beaver and plants that they depend on for sustenance and cultural needs. Moose have been found to have levels of arsenic 400 times the acceptable level as well as sores and tumors. Muskrat have been found with bloody noses and their homes smelling of petroleum. Fish with lesions and deformities are a common thing for fisherman in the region. The effect this has on First Nations/Indigenous communities is amplified when considering our fundamental connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth expressed through our reliance on traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices. Read the rest of this entry »