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The Father of Environmental Justice Reflects on the Movement He Started

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Four decades into his activism, Robert Bullard looks back on his legacy and the work ahead.

Four decades into his activism, Robert Bullard looks back on his legacy and the work ahead.

Four decades into his activism, Robert Bullard looks back on his legacy and the work ahead.

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Panama's High Court Declares Mining Contract Unconstitutional. Here Is What Happens Next

In a historic ruling, Panama’s Supreme Court declared that legislation granting a mining concession to a subsidiary of Canadian mining company First Quantum Mineral was unconstitutional

Panama (AP) — In a historic ruling, Panama’s Supreme Court this week declared that legislation granting a Canadian copper mine a 20-year concession was unconstitutional, a decision celebrated by thousands of Panamanians activists who had argued the project would damage a forested coastal area and threaten water supplies.The mine, which is now in the process of shutting down, has been an important economic engine for the country, employing thousands. But it also triggered massive protests that paralyzed the Central American nation for over a month, mobilizing a broad swath of Panamanian society, including Indigenous communities, who said the mine was destroying key ecosystems they depend on.In its decision, the high court highlighted those environmental and human rights concerns, and ruled the contract violated 25 articles of Panama’s constitution. Those include the right to live in a pollution-free environment, the obligation of the state to protect the health of minors and its commitment to promote the economic and political engagement of Indigenous and rural communities.WHAT IS THE FALLOUT OF THE COURT’S RULING?The ruling would lead to the closure of Minera Panama, the local subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals and the largest open-pit copper mine in Central America, according to jurists and environmental activists.The court said the government should no longer recognize the existence of the mine's concession and Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo said “the transition process for an orderly and safe closure of the mine will begin.”Analysts say it appears highly unlikely that Panama's government and the mining company will pursue a new agreement based on the resounding rejection by Panamanians.“There are sectors in the country that would like a new contract, but the population itself does not want more open-pit mining, the message was clear,” said Rolando Gordón, dean of the economics faculty at the state-run University of Panama. “What remains now is to reach an agreement to close the mine.”COULD PANAMA BE THE SUBJECT OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?Analysts say the mining company is free to pursue international arbitration to seek compensation for the closure based on commercial treaties signed between Panama and Canada. Before the ruling, the company said it had the right to take steps to protect its investment.With the ruling, the Panamanian government and the mining company are headed for arbitration at the World Bank’s international center for arbitration of investment disputes, in Washington D.C., said Rodrigo Noriega, a Panamanian jurist.Marta Cornejo, one of the plaintiffs, said “we are not afraid of any arbitration claim" and that they are “capable of proving that the corrupt tried to sell our nation and that a transnational company went ahead, knowing that it violated all constitutional norms.”In a statement after the verdict, the mining company said it had “operated consistently with transparency and strict adherence to Panamanian legislation.” It emphasized that the contract was the result of “a long and transparent negotiation process, with the objective of promoting mutual economic benefits, guaranteeing the protection of the environment.”WHAT WILL HAPPEN WITH THE THOUSANDS OF JOBS CREATED BY THE MINE?President Cortizo, who had defended the contract arguing it would keep 9,387 direct jobs, more than what the mine reports, said that the closing of the mine must take place in a “responsible and participative” manner due to the impact it would have.The company has said the mine generates 40,000 jobs, including 7,000 direct jobs, and that it contributes the equivalent of 5% of Panama’s GDP.The court verdict and the eventual closure of the mine prompted more protests, this time by mine workers.“We will not allow our jobs, which are the livelihood of our families, to be put at risk,” the Union of Panamanian Mining Workers said in a statement.WHAT WILL BE THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE EVENTUAL MINE CLOSURE?Panama two weeks ago received a first payment of $567 million from First Quantum, as stipulated in their contract. Due to the legal dispute, the amount went directly to a restricted account.The contract also stipulated that Panama would receive at least $375 million annually from the mining company, an amount that critics considered meager.Minera Panama published a scathing statement on Wednesday saying the Supreme Court decision will likely have a negative economic impact and warned that lack of maintenance of drainage systems in the mines could have “catastrophic consequences.” The move, the company said, “puts at risk” all of Panama’s other business contracts.What seems to be clear is that the closure will negatively impact the country's public coffers, said Gordón of University of Panama.The government “had hoped that with that contract it would plug some holes in the nation’s budget, which it will not be able to do now,” Gordón said. “The situation of public finances is still reeling from five weeks of semi-paralysis in the country due to the protests”.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Young Activists Who Won Montana Climate Case Want to Stop Power Plant on Yellowstone River

Young environmental activists who won a landmark climate change case are trying to persuade the Montana Supreme Court to stop a natural gas power plant being built on the banks of the Yellowstone River

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Fresh off a legal victory earlier this year in a landmark climate change case, a group of young environmental activists is trying to persuade the Montana Supreme Court to stop a natural gas power plant that's being built on the banks of the Yellowstone River.The 16 activists said in a court brief filed Tuesday that the air quality permit for the plant near Laurel in south-central Montana should be declared invalid or at least suspended until the state's appeal of their climate change case is decided. The brief was in support of two environmental groups that are challenging the permit.The activists prevailed in August in their yearslong lawsuit against the state for not doing enough to protect them from climate change. They claimed severe wildfires, flooding, drought and other problems spurred by warming temperatures violated their rights under the state constitution to a clean and healthful environment.A state policy, which the judge in the case declared unconstitutional, did not require officials to consider the effect of greenhouse gas emissions when approving fossil fuel projects.In the brief, their attorneys said the young activists have “a unique and significant interest" in making sure new fossil fuel projects like the power plant don't proceed "given the significant harms resulting from additional (greenhouse gas) pollution in Montana.”The state has filed a notice of appeal of the August climate ruling to the Montana Supreme Court but has not submitted its arguments in the case.The young plaintiffs said the justices should not wait for their case to be resolved before taking action on the power plant permit. Their attorney also asked that any constitutional climate and environmental issues should be addressed through the climate lawsuit, which was heard at trial, and not the power plant permit case.The plant is being built to provide energy during times of high demand when prices are high on the open market, NorthWestern Energy said. The company did not oppose the activists' attorneys filing a brief in the case.“We respect the views of other parties, however, NorthWestern Energy’s obligation is to provide reliable energy service at the most affordable rates possible for our Montana customers,” spokesperson Jo Dee Black said in a statement. “Reliable energy service, especially during the winter, is critical for our customers’ lives.”District Court Judge Michael Moses in Billings ruled in April that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality illegally granted the permit for the Yellowstone County Generating Station in 2021 because it did not consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. In response, the state Legislature updated its Montana Environmental Policy Act to say the agency did not have to consider greenhouse gas emissions unless the federal government began regulating those emissions.In June, Moses vacated his order that invalidated the air quality permit, partly in response to the new legislation. Construction on the $250 million power plant resumed.Roger Sullivan, one of the attorneys for the young plaintiffs, said the court's August decision was binding on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies when considering fossil fuel-related permits. “We are hopeful that the Court will find our amicus brief helpful," Sullivan said.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

We Aren't Going Anywhere': How Panama Fishing Boats Brought First Quantum to Its Knees

By Valentine Hilaire and Divya RajagopalPANAMA CITY/TORONTO (Reuters) - For more than a month, a group of 16 fishing boats has been blocking a key...

By Valentine Hilaire and Divya RajagopalPANAMA CITY/TORONTO (Reuters) - For more than a month, a group of 16 fishing boats has been blocking a key port in Panama, choking off coal and essential supplies destined for First Quantum Minerals' giant copper mine there, eventually forcing it to halt operations at the company's biggest revenue source.The fishing flotilla has provided a fresh jolt of marine backing to the thousands of Panamanians who have been marching daily to demand the annulment of the Canadian miner's contract, arguing its presence violates Panama's sovereignty and threatens its environment.The fishermen are angry that the company has appropriated resources, land and water, and worry about the mine's environmental consequences. Cobre Panama has said it is committed to growing more new forest than is impacted by its mine.Panama's top court on Tuesday declared First Quantum's contract unconstitutional and its president announced an orderly shutdown of the mine, but the vigils on land and sea are set to continue as protesters insist that authorities take concrete steps to close the site."We aren't going anywhere," Sabino Ayarza, a representative of the protesting fishermen, told Reuters on Tuesday from his boat.A complete shuttering of the mine, which accounts for about 1% of global copper output and 5% of Panama's GDP, would signal a David vs. Goliath victory for Panamanian protesters.Their grassroots movement, nearly unheard of in business-friendly Panama, has wiped C$11 billion ($7.4 billion) off First Quantum's market value and raised global copper prices on supply worries. Copper is a crucial metal in electrification as the world moves to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.The protesters' victory in Panama is emblematic of the outsized and sometimes unexpected influence local communities are having on mining companies worldwide. In Portugal, for instance, Europe's biggest producer of lithium, some local activists are determined to halt mine developments. Canada's First Nation groups have also mounted fierce opposition against mining on their lands.Those hoping to halt the mine's operations have seen false dawns before. Panama's top court struck down First Quantum's previous contract in 2017, but the company was allowed to mine while a new contract was approved. So protesters aren't taking any chances this time."If this goes on for a year, we will stay a year, there is no end-date," Ayarza said.Cobre Panama accounted for about 46% of First Quantum's overall revenue in the third quarter, according to company data. The company was "reasonably confident" last week in ships carrying supplies reaching the port soon, but failed to circumvent the fishermen's blockade, said a person familiar with the mine's developments who asked not to be named.First Quantum, said it would respect the court's ruling and on Tuesday announced the mine has suspended commercial production due to the blockades.A Scotiabank report forecasts Cobre Panama's copper output in 2024 to represent about 1.6% of global supply and warned an indefinite shutdown increases risks of First Quantum potentially defaulting by the third quarter of 2024, and threaten its liquidity by early 2025.First Quantum did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the question about possible default.Together with dwindling supply from Peru, the world's No. 2 copper producer after Chile, the Panama shutdown threatens to wipe out what had been seen as global surplus in 2024, according to Macquarie.In Chile, the copper outlook for 2023 went from 5.9% growth in May to 1% in July, as state-owned miner Codelco, the world's largest producer, lowered production amid operational difficulties, though it is expected to recover in 2024.The fishermen have added muscle to a movement which blocked roads, causing daily losses of more than $90 million to businesses, according to experts, and food shortages nationwide. Protesters also hurled rocks at a bus transporting workers to the mine on one occasion, injuring eight workers.The court verdict leaves three possible outcomes: Panama could close the mine indefinitely, nationalize it, or agree to settle its differences in international arbitration by negotiating a constitutionally correct contract with First Quantum alongside a new joint-venture partner."We believe it may be time for FM to consider bringing in a major mining partner to share the future risk of operating in Panama," Scotiabank said in a note on Tuesday.However, protesters are pushing firmly towards a ban on all kinds of mining despite warnings of economic consequences.The protesting fishermen have been posting their bank account details on social media for people to donate food and fuel. Ayarza did not detail how much they have received, but said he was confident they can outlast the mining giant."We know our sea. We know the area in which we are waging war," said Ayarza. "We use ropes to make them back down and, well, threaten them so they have to go back."($1 = 1.3579 Canadian dollars)(Reporting by Valentine Hilaire in Mexico City and Divya Rajagopal in Toronto; Additional reporting by Fabian Cambero in Santiago; Editing by Christian Plumb, Denny Thomas and Nick Zieminski)Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

Vox Releases Second Annual Future Perfect 50 List Honoring Visionary Change Agents

Future Perfect 50 Recognizes Visionaries Who Have Made an Impact in Their Fields to Improve Lives Now and In The Future Today, Vox announced its second annual Future Perfect 50 list. For the second year, Vox is highlighting 50 visionaries who are making a difference today and working to improve lives tomorrow. The list honors change agents — the thinkers whose moral imagination pushes the boundaries of what is possible; the activists making the world a better, healthier place; the technologists reimagining the future; the ethicists ensuring it doesn’t go awry. Future Perfect is animated by ideas that can effectively change the world for the better — and the people who can make those ideas a reality. Most of these changemakers aren’t household names; instead, they’re striving to push novel, often utopian ideas into the mainstream. “For this year’s Future Perfect 50 list, we consulted our writers, our sources, and our audience to come up with a collection of the people who exemplify the principles and work we are most excited about,” says Vox editorial director and Future Perfect editor Bryan Walsh. “From researchers grappling with AI risks and activists fighting for animal welfare to the thinkers pushing the boundaries of progress and the climate advocates protecting the planet, the Future Perfect 50 is a cast of true world-changers. At a moment of global darkness, they are the points of light.” The 2023 Future Perfect 50 list includes Genesis Butler, a teen environmental and animal rights activist who is drawing attention to the intertwined connections between animal rights and the climate crisis; Gul Dolen, a leading Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist and psychedelic researcher, who is investigating whether psychedelics might be the key unlocking new cures for health ailments like strokes; Meredith Whittaker, the CEO of Signal, the secure messaging app — who is staunchly opposed to encroaching on privacy online, and all the ways AI poses to upend digital life; Lant Pritchett, an economist who helped co-launch Labor Mobility Partnerships, an organization dedicated to helping rich countries allow more temporary work programs that people in poor countries can use; Priya Donti, the executive director of Climate Change AI, who is using AI and machine learning to tackle climate change through her global nonprofit; and Ashley Muteti, CEO of the Zuri Nzilani Foundation, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to creating awareness on maternal health, preeclampsia, premature births, and infant loss; among many others. The Future Perfect 50 list has been divided into categories that highlight Future Perfect’s focus areas. The full list of honorees is below. Advancing Human Progress: Azeem Azhar, author of the Exponential View newsletter Jerry Chow, quantum computer engineer Gebisa Ejeta, food scientist Hannah Ritchie, data scientist Caleb Watney and Alec Stapp, co-CEOs at the Institute for Progress Heidi Williams, economist and progress studies pro Tamara Winter, Stripe Press commissioning editor Expanding Animal Rights: Genesis Butler, teen animal rights activist Christopher “Soul” Eubanks, APEX Advocacy founder Crystal Heath, veterinarian battling Big Meat David Kaplan, food tech professor Mahi Klosterhalfen, chicken industry transformer Catalina Lopez, fish farming opponent Jon Lovvorn, chief counsel at the Humane Society of the US Justin Marceau, animal rights lawyer Kristie Sullivan, anti-animal tester Imagining the Future: Robin Carhart-Harris, psychedelics savant Gul Dolen, neurologist and psychedelics researcher Christopher Fuchs, quantum physics pioneer Paul Niehaus, economist and social scientist Christine Parthemore, CEO at the Council on Strategic Risks Tatsuyoshi Saijo, design thinker and economist Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, philosophy professor Nikki Teran, biosecurity specialist Aligning on Artificial Intelligence: Yoshua Bengio, deep learning master Paul Christiano and Beth Barnes, AI alignment advocates Katja Grace, lead researcher at AI Impacts Jan Leike, super alignment champion Meredith Whittaker, CEO of Signal Fighting Global Poverty and Health Threats: Seye Abimbola, editor of BMJ Global Health Sasha Gallant, foreign aid innovator Moitshepi Matsheng and Noam Angrist, co-founders of Youth Impact Ashley Muteti, maternal health maven Aisha Nyandoro, guaranteed income torchbearer Scott O’Neill, CEO of World Mosquito Program Lant Pritchett, immigration advocate Joey Savoie and Karolina Sarek, co-founders of Charity Entrepreneurship Varsha Venugopal and Fiona Conlon, co-founders of Suvita Combating Climate Change: Zahra Biabani, Climate Optimism author Priya Donti, executive director of Climate Change AI Jane Flegal, climate researcher Jesse Jenkins, decarbonization buff Ticora Jones, development-scientist-turned-climate champion Robinson Meyer, Heatmap News co-founder Maisa Rojas, environmental politician

Zahra Biabani wants Gen Z to feel hopeful about the future

Lauren Tamaki for Vox The Climate Optimism author believes focusing on victories can engender more positive action. Zahra Biabani, a Gen Z activist and author of Climate Optimism, believes that change is worth pursuing, no matter how bleak things may at times look. Her book, she says, is not for politicians who continue to operate with a business-as-usual mindset or straight-up deny climate change is happening. It’s for everyone else — fellow Zoomers, conscious consumers, activists who don’t want to burn out — to realize that “hope is a self-fulfilling phenomenon.” Her opening chapter explores the psychological biases that keep us from taking the steps to make the world better. If you think pessimistically about the future, the book argues, you may be inclined to focus your efforts on saving yourself before others, or just become mired in inaction. The same can happen if you are so optimistic that you don’t think the status quo needs to change. But a bit of criticism and anger can be a motivator for action, as a 2021 study from the Journal of Climate Change and Health shows. In her book, Biabani describes climate optimism as a “framework based on the idea that we can restore the earth back to health, and in doing so protect the people that inhabit this planet.” In a 2022 TED talk, she mentions that more than 56 percent of Gen Z think the climate crisis means we are doomed. This “doomerism” has real consequences, from anxiety attacks to deciding not to have children for fear of the suffering they will inherit from an unstable climate and economy. That said, Biabani suggests looking at the long-term historical record, which shows that progress does happen; such is the case for the ozone layer, which has recovered since the ’80s, when bans on ozone-destroying chemicals were enacted. Biabani’s framework for optimism relies on balanced reporting of climate solutions as well as coverage of climate disasters. Doing so is important because, as Biabani points out in her book, humans are hardwired to be more attentive to negative news. Showing people solutions they can get involved in, by highlighting positive news sources or encouraging trends over time, paints a more holistic picture of society’s achievements. A wider perspective also means looking for news from around the world, and specifically from the areas and people most impacted by climate change globally. Biabani argues that we need to overcome our inherent negativity bias by focusing on the wins instead, such as the Environmental Protection Agency allocating $50 million to help tribal projects restore critical fish habitats. Progress doesn’t only have to be top-down. It can be grassroots, too, like the land back movement, in which land is restored to the Indigenous peoples who have historically taken care of it. Rights of nature laws — giving rivers and forests legal rights, like those of people and corporations — have gained traction within dozens of communities globally and have promise as a conservation tool. Biabani’s TikTok videos highlight climate wins and strategies for supporting more environmentally just decisions. She was one of the first creators of color on TikTok to dedicate themselves to accessible, optimistic climate justice content. Her “Weekly Earth Wins” series pairs good-news stories with dance and was her first foray into the idea of climate optimism, which then led to her book. But social media, to her, is just the beginning. “It’s not just about creating content,” Biabani told Atmos magazine in 2021, when her TikTok account began taking off. “It’s also thinking of new ways to break into spaces that traditionally people like me haven’t been involved in, or just creating these spaces that are more inclusive.”

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