Planet Watch

De Beers pressured in First Nation suicide crisis

Crisis teams are being deployed to the Cree community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, where more than 100 residents have tried to take their own life in the past seven months. Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh said a state of emergency has been declared in the community, and Canada's Health Minister Jane Philpott called the situation "one of the most serious and pressing tragedies" facing the country." Hundreds more adolescents have attempted suicide, and hundreds more than that have been placed on a "suicide watch"—in a community of only 2,000. (Winipeg Free Press, April 25; CBC, CBC, April 11) 

Canada high court to hear prior consultation case

The Supreme Court of Canada announced March 10 will review two decisions of the National Energy Board related to aboriginal consultation. One case challenges a board decision to allow seismic testing in the waters off the east coast of Baffin Island, which is opposed by the Inuit village of Clyde River, Nunavut. The other is an appeal by the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation in southern Ontario of a ruling that approved the expansion of Enbridge corporation's Line 9 pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to a Montreal refinery. Both Clyde River and the Thames First Nation say they were not adequately consulted on the respective projects. Under Canada's Constitution, the Crown has a "duty to consult" and accommodate, wherever possible, indigenous peoples on any actions that may adversely affect their aboriginal and treaty rights. (Al Jazeera, March 20; CTV, March 10)

Mohawks threaten to block Energy East pipeline

The Mohawk nation is threatening to do everything legally in its power to block TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project, calling it a threat to their way of life. Mohawk Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge "Otsi" Simon warned in a March 9 letter to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard that the project to move 1.1 million barrels of crude and shale oil a day from Alberta to refineries in Canada's east is "risky and dangerous" for First Nations and a threat to their lands, waters and very survival. "Indeed an alliance of indigenous nations, from coast to coast, is being formed against all the pipeline, rail and tanker projects that would make possible the continued expansion of tar sands," Simon wrote. "One thing for sure, we the Mohawks of Kanesatake will not be brushed aside any longer and we wish to press upon you that we reserve the right to take legal action if necessary to prevent the abuse of our inherent rights."

Louisiana tribe becomes first US 'climate refugees'

The Weather Channel reports that a French-speaking Indian tribe who live deep in the Louisiana bayou, some 50 miles south of New Orleans, became the United States' first official "climate refugees" last month when the federal government awarded them $48 million to relocate. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has inhabited Isle de Jean Charles for centuries, but because of a slow-moving disaster caused by sinking land, climate change and oil exploration, they've all but lost the land they call home. With more than 1,900 square miles of land vanishing in the past 80 years, Isle de Jean Charles has been reduced from 11 miles long and five miles wide in the 1950s, to around two miles long and a quarter-mile wide today. The monies are part of $92 million awarded to Louisiana by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a National Disaster Resilience Competition the state won, according to Indian Country Today.

Activists divided on Paris climate accord

In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history... That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT

Obama and the KXL-TPP contradiction

An ominously ironic juxtaposition of news stories, for those who are paying attention. First, the apparent good news. President Obama announced Nov. 6 that he's rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, after seven years of deliberation on the question. Obama invoked the prospect of leaving the 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian shale oil the pipeline would carry in the ground. "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," the president said. "And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership." (NYT, Nov. 6) But one day earlier, Obama notified Congress of his intent to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and finally released the text of the heretofore secretive trade deal. The notification starts a 90-day countdown to the next step in the approval process—seeking Congressional authorization. (The Hill, Reuters, Nov. 5)

Retreat on Arctic drilling —push to open ANWR

This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.

British Columbia mine waste spill: one year later

One year after a catastrophic dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine in the interior of British Columbia, the facility has passed the first phase of remediation and resumed operations—with certain restrictions. The August 2014 disaster sent millions of cubic meters of water contaminated with mine waste into the local Hazeltine Creek, which ultimately flows into the Fraser River. Water-use bans were issued for several local towns, and the spill prompted the government to toughen mine permitting requirements. Imperial Metals Corp has completed a "Phase 1" clean-up overseen by the BC Ministry of Environment. The company has supposedly ensured that water entering Quesnel Lake, which Hazeltine Creek flows through on its way to the Fraser, meets provincial quality standards. The provincial government issued the conditional permit allowing the Mount Polley mine to reopen earlier this month. However, the company cannot discharge water until it receives a second conditional permit, likely in the early fall. (Globe & Mail, July 29, 2015; ThinkProgress, Aug. 5, 2014)