At the Glasgow climate conference a little more than a year ago, I had the sad privilege of helping commemorate the deaths of 227 environmental activists killed around the world the year before. As I wrote in the Guardian at the time, they were people like
Fikile Ntshangase, the South African grandmother who led a spirited campaign against a coalmine in KwaZulu-Natal province and was shot dead in her home last year. Or Óscar Eyraud Adams, the indigenous activist who, during Mexico’s worst drought in 30 years, vocally advocated for his community’s right to water, as the authorities denied them and granted corporations ever more permits. Oscar was shot dead in Tecate last September.
Now we have a new name to add to that wrenching list, 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, killed last week when police raided an encampment of people trying to stop the cutting of a forest near Atlanta to make way for a massive police training complex known as Cop City. The precise circumstances of the death are unclear: Georgia officials insist the young person, known to friends as Tort, fired first when they arrived at the encampment for a “clearing operation,” but since officers weren’t wearing bodycams their version has been met with skepticism from fellow activists who have called the killing an ‘assassination.’ Authorities have released a picture of a gun they say Terán purchased, and say it matches a bullet recovered from a wounded officer—but their credibility is low, which is precisely why the Atlanta Solidarity Fund is calling for an independent investigation and raising money to make sure it happens. Justice demands that at the very least.
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What is clear is that officials—in Georgia, but also around the country—have been steadily raising the stakes, demonizing and cracking down on environmental protesters. Governor Brian Kemp, who backs the Cop City project, began referring to the protesters as ‘terrorists’ last year, and in December, after a raid on the encampment, six protesters were charged with ‘domestic terrorism.’
This followed the 2021 protests over the Line 3 pipeline across Minnesota, when the pipeline company provided millions of dollars in funding to local police forces, who proceeded to use to harass, intimidate and attack activists. It was strange to be there and sense the collaboration between private enterprise and supposedly public government stretching to new lows: the power to jail or to kill is so awesome and immense that it should never overlap with the demands of corporations.
But of course it often does—pretty much all those 227 land defenders killed around the planet had run afoul of someone out to make a buck. And now, across America, laws are being rewritten, often at the behest of corporate lobbyists, to make dissent and protest much more difficult. Here’s a webinar from, among others, the veteran activist Marla Marcum detailing the spread of these anti-protest laws across the coungtry; she reports that only five states haven’t had such laws introduced, and that in Georgia, not atypically, the new law mandates many years in prison for anyone who would “disable or destroy critical infrastructure, a state or government facility, or a public transportation system” in order to “alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government of this state or any of its political subdivisions.” Oh, and "state or government facility" in this case includes “any permanent or temporary facility or conveyance that is used or occupied by representatives of this state or any of its political subdivisions.” All of which is to say, lie down in front of a police car and you’re a terrorist who could spend many many years behind bars.
As Marcum put it, “most people who hear about protesters charged with domestic terrorism will process that information as ‘there are people committing terrorist acts’ and they will think ‘terrorism is bad,’ and they won't question whether the label tells any kind of truth. Because terrorism IS bad. Full stop. But we need to know what the words mean in each context where a prosecutor or politician deploys them.” And in the case of these new laws, it just means: we don’t like you.
We need to be systematically lowering the temperature in this planet—not just by reducing carbon dioxide, but by avoiding this kind of rhetorical and legal escalation.
In other climate and energy news:
+Many thanks to Hannah Ritchie for providing some much-needed numbers illuminating the relative mining burden for fossil fuels and metals for renewables
The minerals for low-carbon energy are like capital costs. The running costs after these technologies have been deployed are much less. We won’t maintain these big numbers forever: it will be a temporary scale-up if we develop affordable methods of recycling them. If we cannot recycle them (which I find unlikely), then this scale-up will occur periodically every few decades.
+Energy saving automatic lights are great, but try to avoid the kind where the computer leaves them on for a year and a half
+Having successfully forced their august institution to divest from hydrocarbons, Fossil Free Harvard has a new white paper on the reasons the university should stop taking research money from Big Oil. It begins like this:
We are concerned that Harvard’s failure to articulate
and uphold comprehensive conflict-of-interest
and disclosure policies undermines the academic
freedom and intellectual autonomy of its research.
An extensive body of evidence suggests that
industry sponsorship can skew research to favor
the interests of the funder — for example, by
downplaying the risks of natural gas, a fossil fuel
that contributes to climate change.
+Iron-air batteries are coming, and fast, for utility-scale deployment. They cost a lot less than their lithium counterparts, meaning they can provide affordable backup for major grid systems. Oh, and they’re going to be building them in West Virginia.
+Those crazy radicals at Consumer Reports have joined the gas vs induction cooktop debate:
“In our testing of ranges, we routinely find electric and induction options that are top scorers,” says Tara Casaregola, who oversees CR’s evaluation of cooktops and ranges. “Induction ranges and cooktops in particular often heat the fastest, simmer steadily, and provide quicker temperature changes when you adjust a burner.”
The numbers don’t lie: 80 percent of the induction ranges currently in our ratings perform well enough for us to recommend them compared with less than half of the gas ranges we’ve evaluated. And all but one induction range gets our top score for high-heat cooking, while not a single gas range earns that rating.
If perchance you can afford the modest fee for this newsletter, you’ll help keep it free for those who can’t—which I hope is a useful service!
This is a big push in the supermajority gerrymandered Ohio General Assembly. Thank you for highlighting that peaceful protest is a fundamental right, and nowhere near being a terrorist activity.
Corporate greed in our country and the world is a very real problem.
ALEC has its toxic tentacles in Ohio government and state governments throughout the country.
Making protest assembly a terr￼orist activity is something all citizens should be speaking out against in their respective state governments.
On a not directly related issue, Mr. McKibben, a conservative friend mentioned recently that car batteries for electric cars are being made with slave labor in The Congo. Is there any truth to that? Do you know? Or is it a pro fossil fuel what-aboutism? Thank you!
Thanks for your voice on this.