Planet Watch

Protesters occupy Keystone XL offices in Houston

More than 100 protesters stormed the lobby of TransCanada's Keystone XL office in Houston the morning of Jan. 7, dancing, releasing a cascade of black balloons to represent tar sands oil, and hanging neon orange hazard tape. After being forced out of the lobby by police, the protesters gathered on the sidewalk and performed street theatre in which a "pipe dragon" puppet destroyed homes and poisoned water until being slain by knights representing the grassroots coalition of the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More, Earth First and others. The protest was the first held in Houston to oppose the pipeline project, which follows a campaign of tree-sits to actually block pipeline construction in rural areas of Texas. "From the Texas backwoods to the corporate boardrooms, the fight to defend our homes from toxic tar sands will not be ignored," said Ramsey Sprague, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. "We're here today to directly confront the TransCanada executives who’re continuing on with business as usual while making our communities sacrifice zones." (Your Houston News, Jan. 7)

Quebec: #IdleNoMore protesters block rail line

Protesters supporting a Native Canadian chief's 23-day hunger strike blocked a rail line at Pointe-a-la-Croix in eastern Quebec Jan. 2. Theresa Spence of Ontario's Attawapiskat First Nation has been fasting to press her demands for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss new legislation that weakens indigenous land rights and environmental protections. The new law, part of the Harper government's budget bill, sparked the #IdleNoMore movement, which has brought together First Nations and environmental activists in a wave of protests across Canada.

King crabs invade Antarctica: no joke

Grist notes a Dec. 12 report on Nature:

Cold temperatures have kept crabs out of Antarctic seas for 30 million years. But warm water from the ocean depths is now intruding onto the continental shelf, and seems to be changing the delicate ecological balance. An analysis by [marine ecologist Craig] Smith and his colleagues suggests that 1.5 million crabs already inhabit Palmer Deep, [a] sea-floor valley… And native organisms have few ways of defending themselves. "There are no hard-shell-crushing predators in Antarctica," says Smith. "When these come in they’re going to wipe out a whole bunch of endemic species."

National Intelligence Council predicts global climate disaster —again

The US National Intelligence Council (NIC) has issued a new report, "Global Trends 2030: Potential Worlds," that emphasizes the rise of China and the risk of catastrophic climate change. An Associated Press summary Dec. 10 says the report finds global terrorism will recede along with the US military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, but cyber-attacks will be a growing concern. "The spectacular rise of Asian economies is dramatically altering...US influence," said NIC chairman Christopher Kojm. While the report sees the potential for US-China cooperation on global security, it also warns of resource struggles leading to instability. Under the heading "Stalled Engines," in the "most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase," the report said. "The US draws inward and globalization stalls." The section "Black Swans" foresees extraordinary events that can change the course of history—such as a severe pandemic that could kill millions in a matter of months, or more rapid climate change. The report is optimistic, however, on the prospects for US energy independence. "With shale gas, the US will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come," it predicts.

Cornhuskers pack Keystone XL hearing

A Dec. 5 public hearing on the proposed re-route of the Keystone XL Pipeline at the Boone County Fairgrounds in the central Nebraska town of Albion was unexpectedly packed with nearly 1,000 people who showed up to sound off on the project. The lone hearing was hosted by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality—the only opportunity for impacted residents to weigh in on the DEQ's findings on TransCanada's revised plan for an oil pipeline through the state on its way to Gulf Coast refineries. Oglala Lakota Nation vice president Tom Poor Bear was among those who expressed concerns about groundwater contamination from the project. TransCanada says it has altered the pipeline's path through Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills and some town water wells.

Quebec fracking ban challenged under NAFTA

US-incorporated energy firm Lone Pine Resources is challenging Quebec’s moratorium on fracking under terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and demanding more than $250 million in compensation. The company—headquartered in Calgary but incorporated in Delaware—officially notified the US Securities and Exchange Commission that on Nov. 8 it filed a notice of intent to sue the Canadian government under NAFTA's controversial Chapter 11. Quebec lawmakers in June approved legislation, Bill l8, that imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing pending further study on its environmental impacts. Lone Pine cites Chapter 11's Article 117, on investor damages, in its claim for the loss of what it calls a "valuable right...without due process, without compensation and with no cognizable public purpose."

Record $4.5 billion settlement with BP in Gulf spill

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Nov. 15 that British Petroleum (BP) has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to felony misconduct for its role in the devastation caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Holder emphasized that the settlement includes a roughly $1.25 billion criminal fine, and announced that two BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon during the spill have been charged with 23 criminal counts—including manslaughter, a result of the 11 workers killed in the April 2010 explosion. As part of the agreement, BP has agreed to plead guilty to 11 of the felonies related to the workers' deaths, a charge of obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors.

Sandy and climate change: media hot air

Paul M. Barrett has made a splash (forgive the pun) on Bloomberg Businessweek with his piece (well on its way to meme-dom) "It's Global Warming, Stupid." He opens:

Yes, yes, it's unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they're right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

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