If @greenpeaceIndia is anti-development, then what is this?

I have largely kept my mouth shut on the Intelligence Bureau (IB) vs. Greenpeace India showdown last month. I guess I’m — surprising even to myself — a little gun-shy.

The leaked report has been posted online; read for yourself. IB has uncovered a large network of NGOs that are attempting to “take down” India’s development.

In the interest of fairness, here’s Greenpeace’s response. You might also want to read some strong reaction here. Or just Google it for all the debate.

As I read it, the IB report (supported by “facts”) says that being concerned about the environment (often in solidarity with other people internationally) and opposing mega projects that sacrifice said environment for questionable, often inequitable, short-term economic gains makes you anti-development and anti-national. I guess that means that substantial numbers of people in our country who stand for inclusive development that doesn’t wreak havoc on people and planet are anti-development and anti-national.

The report makes a stark claim that such opposition knocks two to three percent off of India’s GDP growth. I imagine their calculations must be secret; they don’t cite any numbers but I am sure they exist. This is the IB we’re talking about, and they wouldn’t make such claims if they didn’t know what they were talking about. I certainly don’t believe this guy.

Now, I don’t know what to make of the World Bank report I remember reading a while back that said environmental degradation cuts 5.7 percent off of India’s annual GDP growth. The World Bank is foreign, so I guess it’s probably just anti-national and trying to “take down” India’s development, too.

As I think I understand the IB, having foreign friends or accepting foreign funds, even legally, is questionable. Having foreign ties makes you more likely to be anti national and interested in a “take down” of India’s development. Our current environment minister was the president of a firm that had ties to ClimateWorks, a big foreign NGO, but thank goodness he left that firm as soon as he made the cabinet.

But I’m still a little confused. The IB report makes very clear that big FDI projects like the Vendanta (UK subsidiary) bauxite mine or the POSCO (South Korean subsidiary) steel plant have been held up by all this anti-development and anti-national activity. But I thought the F in FDI stood for foreign. Maybe they’re acceptable sources of foreign money because they support neoliberal, Big Capitalist growth? But then the World Bank supports a lot of that, and I think I’m supposed to be skeptical of that one now.

In the name of full disclosure, I’m an OCI Indian. That means I’m half and half (though I live in India, have Indian family and consider myself Indian). What am I do to? I don’t think there’s an operation for me to cut ties with myself.

The IB report report names a bunch of NGOs other than Greenpeace, including some that sound mostly like poor villagers trying to stop “development” from taking their land or destroying their fishing grounds. I guess they could be threats to national security as well.

I do think this “debate” hasn’t gotten enough coverage. I suspect that our own civil society is scared now that the curtain has been pulled back on their anti-development, anti-national activities that were “people centric,” as the IB put it.

For more full disclosure, I actually do disagree with Greenpeace on some policies/strategies, but I’ve also done consulting work for the organization and I have been donating monthly, because I thought they were protecting trees and fish and the like for poor people who rely heavily on trees and fish and the like. Maybe should I think about putting my money into other investments, like energy projects for the tens upon tens of millions of Indian villagers who don’t have power.

Which brings me to my headline question: If Greenpeace India (or any other NGO interested in protecting the environment) is ant-development or anti-national or both, what should I think about its effort to electrify villages with renewable, distributed technology? IB is telling me to be wary of Greenpeace, but should I be wary of the #bijliforall campaign, which seems to support “development” among some of the poorest members of our nation?

Take Dharnai, Greenpeace’s test village, where residents themselves are buying into a distributed solar micro grid. When I hear their stories, I can’t figure out exactly who or what they are “anti.” Dharnai is a village in Bihar on the Patna-Gaya road. I’ve been to Bihar and seen city and village life. My wife and her family are from Bihar. Large parts of Bihar are very poor and still without electricity.

The general notion behind Greenpeace’s decentralized renewable energy (DRE) pilot is to prove that renewable tech (solar, wind, micro-hydel, biogas, etc.), which are continually decreasing in cost, can be implemented locally and sustainably. More details were unveiled this week, including a Q&A for media, which get into the logic behind DRE.

Thanks to the IB report, I know I should be skeptical; perhaps these villagers are just greedy and want power without paying for it from centralized, large-scale coal, nuclear and megadams. But it really does seem like there might be an opportunity for local solar and other tech to light up villages in Bihar without massive infrastructure, associated costs, subsidies, inequities and environmental destruction.

Maybe another IB report will clear up all of my confusion. Or maybe Prime Minister Narendra Modi could set me straight. He told Parliament last month that he wants to “empower the poor man so that he can fight poverty.”

Solar panels in rural villages do seem empowering. Quite literally, in fact.

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Dear Mr. President: What does it say when historical foes march together, hand-in-hand against your indecision on #nokxl?

I’ll be brief. Maybe.

Dear President Obama: I sorely missed being in Washington, DC, this week. The Reject and Protect protests by the Cowboy Indian Alliance (and thousands of other supporters) against the Keystone XL pipeline wraps up today. The big show was yesterday and the pictures are fantastic, symbolic and powerful. Check the video above of the opening ceremony earlier in the week. I hope you heard them. They mean business and you should listen.

My views on this are hardly a secret. #NOKXL. But I’m still a little in awe of how many people have come together, from very different subject positions, despite what I consider to be an adverse environment for environmental politics.

Consider the context: U.S. politics are poisoned/paralyzed by a hypocritical, psuedo-”freedom from government” movement; the Democratic leadership is focused on public relations damage control over its greatest achievement (which I still support); the Republican-controlled House hates nature; the uber-rich Koch brothers live and breathe climate change denial* and bankroll idiocy* on the matter; some scholars say as national governments are unable/unwilling/less necessary to lead in global environmental governance, cities may/can step up in their place.

Such gridlock, political distractions, misinformation (lies, you giant Kochs*) and city-scale momentum might suggest that a national environmental movement would have trouble gathering steam.

Yet somehow, Mr. President, you have managed to repeatedly draw large crowds of protest very near to your doorstep. More than 1,200 got themselves arrested in 2011 in a massive display of civil disobedience, and tens of thousands have again and again crowded downtown DC to tell you to take a moral stand and reject this pipeline.

In the latest action, Obama-sir, you’ve managed to convince historical foes — ranchers and indigenous tribes — that they have something important in common that would trump even the grave injustices and conflict of the past. In case you haven’t figured it out, that common interest is telling you where you ought to shove the pipeline.

As you well know, Mr. President, climate change is real and scary. We’re on a runaway train of oil addiction; stopping said train will be painful, to be sure. But the whole planet is headed for an even worse fate if tar sands crude goes up in so much smoke. If Keystone XL is approved, the United States will be aiding and abetting the consumption of immoral, uber-dirty (like, Koch Bros.-dirty*) tar sands crude.

Perhaps I should be thankful that your indecision on the looming threat of this pipeline has galvanized a new environmental movement that bridges some serious political gulfs. Perhaps I could be thankful, Mr. Obama, if I wasn’t still so damn flustered that you and your administration are politically punting (again) on environmental protection.

* For you prickly Koch Bros. fanboys, my angst about your money-grubbing heroes is of course my opinion, no matter how many other people (or facts) share said opinion. No need to line up the libel suits.

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Mr. Obama, reject this pipeline! #nokxl

There’s only about two weeks left to make comments on the final State Department Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This is the pipeline that more than a million of us have opposed from D.C. to Nebraska to Alberta to countries across the globe, large and small. This is the pipeline that I was protesting when arrested in 2011. My views on this are no secret.

Anyone wishing to comment can do so directly on the Regulations.gov or through a proxy such as 350.org, an organization I support.

My own comment is below, which anyone is free to use.

President Obama boldly claimed he would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it significantly affected the climate. More to the point, he linked our own national interest with the global climate. Time and again, the president has called for accepting the reality of climate change and attempting to do all we can to mitigate (or adapt to) its impacts, particularly for the most vulnerable communities. Kudos to him for strong words.

I hope this translates into strong action that resolutely rejects the pipeline. This pipeline will allow 830,000 barrel per day of the worst oil to reach market. This will only lower marginal costs for companies to extract and sell more tar sands crude than they could otherwise. This will only increase our economic path dependency on dirty oil. Any claims to the contrary — and even parts of the final Keystone XL EIS — are based on faulty assumptions, poor models (essentially accepting a 6 degree temperature rise, for example) and an unhealthy amount of industry involvement in what was supposed to be an unbiased accounting.

However, beyond the dithering over details and quibbling over accounting, I have a larger concern. The president has repeatedly suggested that we as a country have the moral obligation of right action. In my favorite Obama moment, he claimed in 2004 that he believes that we are our brother’s keeper, that the fates of those less fortunate and the misery of people elsewhere still make our own lives poorer. We must then recognize that we are members of a global community and climate change continues to make people in that community suffer. And that suffering happens at home and abroad. And that suffering is caused by our misuse of resources.

This is a moral issue; the president must not duck it as a fiscal, balance-of-numbers question. Nor can it be sidestepped as part of any political calculus. The practical nature and political expediency of the president’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy must be discarded, at least this time.

Simply put, this test has no “all-of-the-above” bubble to mark. The cost — financial, yes, but also human and environmental — of some forms of energy is too great. Keeping Keystone XL on the table is simply not a moral option. Doing so aides and abets climate destruction and contributes to global suffering.

Mr. President, you now have the findings of the State Department, as problematic as they are. Now it is your turn to act, and act rightly.

Please, Mr. President, reject this pipeline.

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Dear State Department: #NOKXL

There are only a few more days to submit comments to the State Department regarding its draft environmental impact statement on the latest version of the Keystone XL nightmare pipeline. Following the closure of the comment period, the state department may make revisions to its currently flawed assessment of the pipeline, which will ultimately be used to make a recommendation to the president.

[For those folks who are not deeply mired/versed in this debate already, this article, this archive and this video are some places to start. Bonus: If you pause the video at 2:29, you can see me in my white linen protest suit and Panama hat getting arrested in front of the White House.]

The pipeline is a focal point for environmental protest because its construction would be devastating to any attempt to stave off extreme climate change. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, the pipeline would essentially be “game over.” I won’t belabor the well established point that tar sands oil is particularly noxious. Suffice to say: We need to stop the pipeline.

Anyone concerned can submit comments on the impact statement to keystonecomments@state.gov. You can also send letters with suggested text via 350.org’s Stop KXL campaign or through other outlets, such as The Nation.

My own comment (which anyone can use):

I oppose Keystone XL because it serves neither our national interest nor the planet’s. The pipeline only returns profits to TransCanada (which has lied about facts and spun the story to suit its ends) while bolstering the incredibly destructive tar sands industry. This extraction is particularly bad for our planet (and hence our nation) and will only deepen our path dependency on an economic mode that cannot and will not survive in the long-run. If we are to transition to a post-carbon economy — which is the only option if we value the future and don’t simply discount all coming generations — we must take concrete steps to move beyond oil. Any economist worth her salt can explain that concept; adjust the discount rate, extend the time horizon a generation or two and there’s no way this pipeline is “in our national interest.”

More importantly, this is no longer just an economic calculus. The president’s “all of the above” energy strategy may be politically expedient and may (but still probably doesn’t) make sense in the very short-run. But expediency doesn’t equal morality, and this is not only an economic decicision. It is also a moral one. Some forms of energy — in this case, tar sands crude — are simply incompatible with a just and right future.

As such, blocking this pipeline is the only moral course of action.

— Adam Jadhav, April 14, 2013

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I’m writing to you, Senator #nokxl

Senator Durbin:

This is not a form letter. You and I have shaken hands plenty; for a while we were on a first-name basis when I was a political reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. How many times did I tour the Metro East with you? How many times was I there at town hall meetings in the Collinsville City Council chambers or Edwardsville or Granite City?

Today, I am in graduate school here in D.C. studying environmental policy. I’m an activist. I was arrested for protesting in front of the White House in September. I’m a scholar. I research natural resource policy, environmental degradation and sustainable development.

I’m asking you as a professional acquaintance, as someone who listened for a long time to the political concerns of southern Illinoisans, as a worried citizen and as a registered Illinois voter (my permanent address is in Champaign) to do all you can to stop GOP factions and Big Oil special interests from resurrecting the Keystone XL pipeline.

If you and your allies in the Senate take the time to talk straight to Americans (whatever the hell Fox News thinks), they will listen. If you take a moral stand, you’ll be doing the right thing (whatever the hell the Tea Party thinks).

And if you need help that I can provide, contact me.

There’s so much more we could be doing to invigorate our economy and protect this planet. Think about green jobs in a renewable energy economy. Think solar and offshore wind and green infrastructure. Think better quality of living and public health. Think natural splendor that warms heart and soul.

But if we instead take the cheap (actually more costly) and dirty (yes, really, really dirty) way of burning tar sands, we become that much more path dependent on oil. That’s game over for our planet.

I’ve heard you tell me directly about how Washington needs change, how it’s beholden to special interests, how our government needs bold action.

I say to you, lead the charge.

Adam Jadhav

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People against pipelines… for the win!

Yes we can!

Activists and ordinary people across the country claimed a victory yesterday as the Obama administration has postponed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, pending further reassessment of the economic benefits and untold environmental consequences.

In case, you’re wondering, this is kind of a big deal.

I’ll try to keep it short: Oil industry folks — and some construction companies looking for temporary jobs — were very excited about laying a long pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, to make extraction of crude oil found in Alberta tar sands easier. Their argument: This brings more oil from a friendly source to the U.S. and would create jobs in the United States.

Those claims are at best specious and they ignore the serious harm the world would get in the bargain.

Let’s start with the “friendly energy” concept. Oil is a global commodity; prices are determined largely by world demand. Lower prices in the U.S. are not due to some charity or good will from our suppliers.

And this wouldn’t somehow supply the U.S. better. Some have actually argued the opposite, that the pipeline would make the export of the oil to the world market even easier. Plus, independent resource economists who have looked seriously at the “dependence on foreign oil” argument generally agree that price shocks from unfriendly sources are almost always smoothed by increased supply from other sources. If a country that doesn’t like us withholds, the price might rise briefly and another country will invariably give in and fill supply.

(In case you’re wondering, Cananda at present is the biggest supplier of the U.S., but that doesn’t mean we get drastically lower prices because Canucks like us so. Our discounts at the pump are largely thanks to the awesome [sarcasm] subsidies our government offers oil companies.)

Then there’s the jobs question. The U.S. economy is hurting, certainly, and proponents say the pipeline would create somewhere around 20,000 jobs. Not 20,000 permanent jobs, mind you. About 13,000 of those are job-years in construction. So maybe 6,500 one year, 6,500 another. The remainder of 7,000 is an equally dubious proposition, as it refers to secondary supply chain effects, some of which are unlikely as materials are already purchased or sourced.

So, in reality, we get just a temporary bump and then it’s back to unemployment. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s not structural economic change that leads to lasting work or better standards of living. We need a true green employment revolution, in public transport, eco-friendly energy, clean (slow) food, retooling our infrastructure across the country.

And we need an ethical change that decouples happiness and standards of living from over-consumptive growth dependent on materials (in this case, carbon).

In short, more love and bikes.

Meanwhile, the tar sands crude extraction process rips holes in the earth that are visible from space. This is the less-than-easily accessible oil; extraction is itself more energy and input intense, creating vast lakes of toxic water and vast swaths of razed forest. Due to the nature of this oil, using tar sands crude releases drastically more carbon dioxide, our not-so-friendly climate change gas. This quote has been over used, but it is worth repeating: NASA’s top climatologist, a guy who isn’t exactly political while he studies the atmosphere and space and the like, called the pipeline and full exploitation of these tar sands “game over.”

Speaking of climate change, this pipeline would have the added benefit of committing the U.S. and the world that much more to a carbon economy. It would only strengthen our “path dependency,” making structural change more difficult. Make no mistake, climate change is real and we will have to adapt to it. Despite the tirades of deniers in the U.S., we will be weaned of carbon one day; the question is whether that transition is orderly and comfortable sooner or chaotic and painful later.

That’s why 1,253 people were arrested, myself included, outside the White House gates this summer in protest. That’s why thousands of people across the country raised a ruckus. That’s why Obama was birddogged by reporters protesters on various circuits this autumn. That’s why Canadian embassies across the world were the targets of demonstrations. That’s why 10,000 or so folks literally joined arms last weekend in a human chain around the White House (I lost my voice shouting).

And let’s be clear, this was not a coalition of fringe hippies. I met students, retirees, labor, hunters, farmers, preachers, professors, lawyers, truckers and everyone in between. I was arrested with people from Vermont, Nebraska, Illinois, Puerto Rico and Canada.

To reiterate, this decision to reevaluate the pipeline is certainly a big win. Cynics will say it only punts the question until after the 2012 election, but it also likely dooms the project.

And, more importantly, it doesn’t send us careening us down the path to ever more environmental harm.

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Protests and Panama hats…

All dressed up, one place to go...

Another shot of me being lead away this weekend in a civil disobedience action against the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. If completed, this would be, according to one of the nation’s leading climate scientists, game over for mitigating climate change.

Because I cared and was able, I was arrested Saturday in protest like others who joined the sit-ins in front of the White House for the last two weeks. Billed as the largest civil disobedience movement in a decade, the daily protests/arrests offered a unique chance to focus on a single issue — the decision on the pipeline requires only Obama’s signature — that has such international import.

I went to bear witness and be counted. I went because I could afford to. I went to observe a social movement from the inside. I went because MLK’s voice moved me to not be silent.

On the final day, I was the final person arrested. No. 244. And, as is obvious, I wore a suit, tie and hat, because when the matter is serious, perhaps it’s best not to dress like a hippie.

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This is what Democracy looks like!

And then, they were arrested...


Photo by Josh Lopez

See anyone familiar? (Look just above the second eight).

I now have an arrest record. And after two weeks, more than 1,250 people built (or added to) one, too.

There’s more to the tale coming in subsequent posts. But in the meantime, you should read in to find out the serious trouble literally coming down the pipeline.

By the ways, “Show me what Democracy looks like! / This is what Democracy looks like!” is the best call-and-response protest chant out there.

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Monk’s mood: Candelight march

Protest

Monks and others march ’round the main square of Dharamshala in memory of a young monk in Tibet who a day earlier had set himself on fire in protest of Chinese rule over his country. As the primary community for Tibetans in exile from Chinese rule, Dharamshala is something of free expression zone for all manner of protest and sociopolitical thought, like the monk’s vigil.

They do here what they would be shot for doing in Tibet.

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Wearing red in Bangkok

Not much for Red Shirts to do, except sell red shirts

My only day in Bangkok a few weeks ago, I wandered the streets and, in particular, the Red Shirt protest zone. The protests are making the news more frequently as the political situation worsens and violence breaks out.

I can’t pretend to sort out the full politics, but the tension includes a healthy dose of class struggle. The Red Shirts, the protesters that are camped in the Thai capital, are mostly poor villagers with nothing better to do, led by a populist leader. They accuse the other side — the Yellow Shirts — and the current government of being morally bankrupt and only focused on urban wealth.

I should also note that it’s generally accepted, if not publicly agreed to, that there’s corruption on both sides of the political-cum-violent struggle.

Tempers are clearly rising now, but the one day I was there, things were peaceful. Aside from a bit of rallying which I stayed away from, the Red Shirts mostly were hanging out as above and below. Police were on guard, but seemed half-asleep at their posts when I spoke to them briefly.

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