News from the Center July 2023

Larry Glass, NEC Board President

Caroline Griffith, NEC Executive Director

Climate Colonialism and the Free Market

As the climate crisis intensifies, its effects continue to be disproportionately felt by those with less power. In recent weeks the United States territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have been suffering from climate related disasters. Puerto Rico experienced unparalleled heat with the effective temperature, factoring in humidity, at 124 degrees. At that temperature, it’s impossible for human beings to carry on their normal daily functions. Because of the shoddy US response to previous extreme weather in Puerto Rico, the island lacks the infrastructure to deal with extreme heat.

The US’s second largest territory is Guam, in the western Pacific, which is a strategic military base. It was recently hit by Typhoon Mawar and at the time of this writing much of Guam remained without power or running water. The Category 4 storm tore off roofs and mangled trees with fierce wind and rain. 

Extreme weather like this is caused largely by the actions of wealthy nations, with islands like these seeing some of the first, and worst, effects.

As US territories (of which there are five: Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands), both islands pay federal taxes and send their young people to fight in the military (American Samoa has more military enlistments per capita than any state in the union), but they lack many of the rights of US citizens, including voting representation in Congress, which means they don’t have the same leverage when it comes to funding. This reliance on the US for aid, along with spiraling debt, lack of representation and military occupation is a new form of colonialism that has been dubbed “climate colonialism.”

The problem is we tend to rely on the market to combat climate change, but by doing so, we wind up with a situation in which “solutions” need to be profitable. For example, Shell Oil diversified into renewables but with profits from oil and gas typically ranging between 10 and 20 percent, while those for solar and wind projects tend to be between 5 and 8 percent, they’ve scrapped renewable projects and ramped up oil and gas production. With profit as the goal the deck is stacked against the climate.

The climate crisis is not going to be solved by the free market and our “climate colonies” will continue to suffer, foreshadowing what is in store for the rest of the world. Both Puerto Rico and Guam have proposed statehood over the years, with independence as part of the conversation. Until they get the right to self determination and are looked at as more than strategic locations for military installations whose value is “national security”, we can expect this climate colonialism and the associated disasters to persist. 

Criminalizing Dissent

A dangerous trend has re-emerged around the country as dissent is being criminalized, particularly for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and environmentalists, as evidenced by the repression of Stop Cop City activists and the police killing of unarmed forest defender, Tortuguita. For almost two years now, environmentalists and neighborhood activists have been organizing in Atlanta, GA to stop the destruction of the 381-acre Weelaunee Forest for the purpose of building a massive military-style so-called “public safety training facility.” This make-believe city where the police will be trained in urban warfare has been called Cop City by locals.

In May, officers from the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation raided a community center in Edgewood, a historically Black neighborhood in Atlanta, and arrested three activists who help run the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a mutual aid and bail fund founded in 2016. The allegations of “charity fraud” and money laundering, loosely connected to the effort to defend the Atlanta Forest and stop Cop City, were so far-fetched that even the presiding judge expressed skepticism when they appeared in court for arraignment. As bad as this is, it was made worse when the State of Georgia began declaring the activists opposed to Cop City “domestic terrorists”.

In response to this, Georgia’s Democratic senator Rafael Warnock asked the Department of Homeland Security for a clarification, saying, “Peaceful protest is a quintessentially American activity and a fundamental constitutional right.” Thankfully, the US Department of Homeland Security has contradicted law enforcement officials in Georgia, stating that the activist groups opposed to Cop City have never been classified as domestic terrorists.This statement from Homeland Security came after dozens of Cop City protesters with Defend the Atlanta Forest were served with arrest warrants claiming they were members of a group classified by the US Department of Homeland Security as violent domestic extremists. 

This is a growing trend in red states around the country; as many as 14 states have some form of this kind of fascist oppression of dissent. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has proudly declared war on protesters, going so far as to pass an “anti-rioting” act which, among other things, grants protections to those who use violence against demonstrators, including hitting them with cars.

Although we have not seen the same sort of attacks on the right to protest here in California, police repression of environmental activists is part of our recent history. We would do well to pay attention to what is happening in Atlanta, remember our past, and defend the rights of our fellow activists around the country.