Thursday, May 13, 2010

Barrick Tries to Block Book on Mining Practices

Barrick Gold moves to block mining book
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 12, 2010
CBC News

The threat of legal action from mining giant Barrick Gold has forced Vancouver-based Talonbooks to postpone publication of a book about the Canadian mining industry.

Publisher Karl Siegler calls it a clear case of "libel chill" by one of Canada's largest mining companies.

The book, Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal Haven of Choice for the World's Mining Industries, was to be published in spring 2010, but in February, the publisher and everyone else involved with the book got a threatening letter from Barrick lawyers.

Siegler described Imperial Canada as an examination of the political, legal and banking environment that has led 70 per cent of the world's mining companies to register in Canada.
Defamation suit launched in Quebec

The letter gave Talonbooks seven days to hand over the manuscript of the book, which was in the process of being translated from French to English.

"We ignored it initially," Siegler said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Q cultural affairs show.

"As far as we were concerned, they had no right to demand or see copies of manuscripts that were in development prior to their public release. Anyone working on a book has a right to privacy and should not be subject to this kind of supervision."

But after receiving a legal letter, the translators immediately stopped work on the book. Siegler consulted a lawyer, who told him if he proceeded with the book, he could face years in court fighting an opponent with very deep pockets.

"Everyone involved stood to lose millions of dollars," Siegler said. "In the publisher's case, we stood to lose not just the company but all of the titles we have in print, roughly 500 titles dating back to the 1960s, many of which are Canadian classics."

Imperial Canada Inc. was inspired by a French-language book published in Quebec called Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique by the same lead author Alain Deneault .

Barrick Gold and another mining company, Banro, sued the authors and publishers of Noir Canada for $11 million claiming defamation for the book's description of Canadian mining practices in Africa. That case is still before the courts and Canada Noir remains available in print in French only.

Siegler said he considered publishing a straight-up translation of Canada Noir but decided he wanted to examine a wider issue — the infrastructure that supports Canada's mining industry.

"I'm not interested in the sensationalist aspects [of] what Canadian companies do around world. I'm interested the subtext," he said.

He approached Degneault to write the book, suggesting he recruit a team of collaborators.
Libel accusation 'appalling': publisher

John Dixon, a spokesman for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the case underscores the need for a change in Canadian libel laws, so that corporations cannot use the laws to protect themselves from public scrutiny.

"If we step back and consider whether or not it is really important for Canadians to understand the mining industry and the consequences of the conduct of those industries around the world, we can't give corporations the same kind of protection [as we do private citizens]," Dixon said.

"We can't let them have the uninhibited ability to sue if we're going to get to the bottom of stuff like that. "

But Vince Borg, vice-president of corporate communications at Barrick Gold, said the company is just defending its reputation.

"Discourse is a very good thing in democracy, but it has to be based on the facts," Borg told Q.

"If I was about to publish a book about your criminal misdeeds, and you saw it on my website, would you not take action to protect your reputation?"

Siegler called this defence "appalling."

"Here's a man telling you that he's seen on a website a book that he presumes is about to accuse him and the corporation he works for of criminal acts," Siegler said. "There's nothing on our website to indicate that anybody is going to accuse anyone of criminal acts."

Talonbooks is still considering publishing Imperial Canada, possibly among its fall releases, but it first has to convince the translators and everyone else involved with the book to continue working on it, Siegler said.

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Venezuelan Natural Gas Platform Sinks in Caribbean

Venezuelan natural gas platform sinks in Caribbean

A gas platform has sunk in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela, but the energy minister says it poses no risk to the environment.

President Hugo Chavez announced the incident via his account on the social networking site Twitter.

He said all 95 workers were evacuated from the Aban Pearl platform before it sank in the early hours of Thursday.

The rig was at the centre of Venezuela's efforts to develop its huge offshore gas deposits.

Venezuela's energy and oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, said there had been a problem with the flotation system of the semi-submergible platform, causing it to keel over and sink.

But he said a tube connecting the rig to the gas field had been disconnected and safety valves activated, so there no risk of any gas leak.

The Aban Pearl platform was drilling in the Mariscal Sucre offshore natural gas project, off the coast of Venezuela's Sucre state.

It belongs to an Indian company, Aban Offshore Ltd, but was being operated by Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, which is developing the field.

Massive reserves

Last week Mr Ramirez stood atop the rig on live television as its gas flare was lit to inaugurate the project.

Venezuela has massive offshore gas reserves, but it has struggled to attract foreign investment, and industry experts say progress has been slow.

President Chavez used Twitter to send out the news of the sinking at just after 0300 local time (0730 GMT).

"I'm afraid to inform you that gas platform Aban Pearl sank a few moments ago. The good news is that 95 workers are safe," he tweeted.

"They were evacuated and at the moment two Navy patrols are moving to the area."

The captain and two other crew stayed on board until it was clear the rig was going down, officials said.

The incident comes less than a month after an explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Work is still under way to stop a massive oil leak that is threatening the Gulf coast of the United States.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eyeing the Black Mountain Climb

I share their despair, but I'm not quite
ready to climb the Dark Mountain
by George Monbiot


To sit back and wait for the collapse of industrial civilisation is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens value

Those who defend economic growth often argue that only rich countries can afford to protect the environment. The bigger the economy, the more money will be available for stopping pollution, investing in new forms of energy, preserving wilderness. Only the wealthy can live sustainably.

Anyone who has watched the emerging horror in the Gulf of Mexico in the past few days has cause to doubt this. The world's richest country decided not to impose the rules that might have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, arguing that these would impede the pursuit of greater wealth. Economic growth, and the demand for oil that it propelled, drove companies to drill in difficult and risky places.

But we needn't rely on this event to dismiss the cornucopians' thesis as self-serving nonsense. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculates deforestation rates between 2000 and 2005 in the countries with the largest areas of forest cover. The nation with the lowest rate was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The nation with the highest, caused by a combination of logging and fire, was the United States. Loss of forest cover there (6% of its own forests in five years) was almost twice as fast as in Indonesia and 10 times as fast as in the DRC. Why? Because those poorer countries have less money to invest in opening up remote places and felling trees.

The wealthy nations are plundering not only their own resources. The environmental disasters caused by the oil industry in Ecuador and Nigeria are not driven by Ecuadorian or Nigerian demand, but by the thirst for oil in richer nations. Deforestation in Indonesia is driven by the rich world's demand for palm oil and timber, in Brazil by our hunger for timber and animal feed.

The Guardian's carbon calculator reveals that the UK has greatly underestimated the climate impacts of our consumption. The reason is that official figures don't count outsourced emissions: the greenhouse gases produced by other countries manufacturing goods for our markets. Another recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the UK imports a net 253m tonnes of carbon dioxide, embodied in the goods it buys. When this is taken into account, we find that far from cutting emissions since 1990, as the last government claimed, we have increased them. Wealth wrecks the environment.

So the Dark Mountain Project, whose ideas are spreading rapidly through the environment movement, is worth examining. It contends that "capitalism has absorbed the greens". Instead of seeking to protect the natural world from the impact of humans, the project claims that environmentalists now work on "sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world's rich people – us – feel is their right".

Today's greens, it charges, seek to sustain the culture that knackers the planet, demanding only that we replace old, polluting technologies with new ones – wind farms, solar arrays, wave machines – that wreck even more of the world's wild places. They have lost their feelings for nature, reducing the problem to an engineering challenge. They've forgotten that they are supposed to be defending the biosphere: instead they are trying to save industrial civilisation.

That task, Paul Kingsnorth – a co-founder of Dark Mountain – believes, is futile: "The civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it." Nor can we bargain with it, as "the economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon … growth in order to function". Instead of trying to reduce the impacts of our civilisation, we should "start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse … Our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, whilst creating new myths which put humanity in its proper place".

Though a fair bit of this takes aim at my writing and the ideas I champion, I recognise the truth in it. Something has been lost along the way. Among the charts and tables and technofixes, in the desperate search for green solutions that can work politically and economically, we have tended to forget the love of nature that drew us into all this.

But I cannot make the leap that Dark Mountain demands. The first problem with its vision is that industrial civilisation is much more resilient than it proposes. In the opening essay of the movement's first book, to be published this week, John Michael Greer proposes that conventional oil supplies peaked in 2005, that gas will peak by 2030, and that coal will do so by 2040.

While I'm prepared to believe that oil supplies might decline in the next few years, his coal prediction is hogwash. Energy companies in the UK, as the latest ENDS report shows, are now beginning to deploy a technology that will greatly increase available reserves. Government figures suggest that underground coal gasification – injecting oxygen into coal seams and extracting the hydrogen and methane they release – can boost the UK's land-based coal reserves 70-fold; and it opens up even more under the seabed. There are vast untapped reserves of other fossil fuels – bitumen, oil shale, methane clathrates – that energy companies will turn to if the price is right.

Like all cultures, industrial civilisation will collapse at some point. Resource depletion and climate change are likely causes. But I don't believe it will happen soon: not in this century, perhaps not even in the next. If it continues to rely on economic growth, if it doesn't reduce its reliance on primary resources, our civilisation will tank the biosphere before it goes down. To sit back and wait for what the Dark Mountain people believe will be civilisation's imminent collapse, without trying to change the way it operates, is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens are supposed to value.

Nor do I accept their undiscriminating attack on industrial technologies. There is a world of difference between the impact of windfarms and the impact of mining tar sands or drilling for oil: the turbines might spoil the view but, as the latest disaster shows, the effects of oil seep into the planet's every pore. And unless environmentalists also seek to sustain the achievements of industrial civilisation – health, education, sanitation, nutrition – the field will be left to those who rightly wish to preserve them, but don't give a stuff about the impacts.

We can accept these benefits while rejecting perpetual growth. We can embrace engineering while rejecting many of the uses to which it is put. We can defend healthcare while attacking useless consumption. This approach is boring, unromantic, uncertain of success, but a lot less ugly than the alternatives.

For all that, the debate this project has begun is worth having, which is why I'll be going to the Dark Mountain festival this month. There are no easy answers to the fix we're in. But there are no easy non-answers either.