Biden’s ‘Climate Corps’: Idealism or pragmatism?

Twenty thousand young people in the US will be paid to take part in training that aims to find them employment concerned with the fight against climate change. Opportunities could arise in reforestation, wildland fire prevention and other natural and cultural resource management projects, energy efficiency and environmental justice.

Biden may be thinking about next year’s election, as he will need to gain support among young people and minority ethnic Americans, but this measure has more support than you might expect.

poll earlier this year, carried out by Data For Progress, indicated that a Climate Corps programme would be popular overall, supported by 88% of Democrats and 60% of Independents — and surprisingly, despite Republican opposition last year, more Republicans, 42%, voiced their support, as against 41% who opposed it.

Republican opposition in Congress previously made this initiative impossible, but Biden has decided to make use of existing funding and the legal authority Congress has already provided to agencies. He was undoubtedly spurred on by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who, with Senator Edward Markey, sent a letter to the President urging him to use executive authority to establish a Climate Corps. Of course, Critical Mass does not endorse the Biden administration in any way. In fact, to our alarm, Biden has just agreed to send long-range missiles to Ukraine, and we are horrified at the thought of what he could unleash.

With the ‘Climate Corps’, Biden may well be trying to soften the blow of his gas and oil policies. He recently agreed to new oil and gas leasing on federal land and in the Alaskan Arctic. Let us hope this is not an entirely cynical move but an indication that, now and then, even administrators in an aggressive predatory capitalist state can occasionally listen and make a promising decision. Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, stated: “We turned a generational rallying cry into a real jobs programme that will put a new generation to work stopping the climate crisis. Young people everywhere should feel empowered by this victory and continue demanding the change we need.” 

No end to the suffering in the Horn of Africa

Parts of the Horn of Africa have suffered greatly for decades. Many areas in this north-east corner of Africa were devastated by the drought which lasted from 2020 until this year. In addition, the population has been enduring recurrent conflicts, with war breaking out again in November 2020, leading to thousands of deaths. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which focuses on the rights of women and girls, reported this year that in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia there are over 43 million people who require humanitarian assistance. Over 2.7 million people have been displaced. The recent rains may have begun to make a difference, but there is also now a serious risk of damage from flooding. Women in particular suffer from the effects of the war and from the drought. As UNFPA reports: “They are forced to shoulder the burden of extreme weather events driven by a climate crisis that is not of their making.” 

In November 2022, after talks in South Africa, both sides agreed on a “permanent cessation of hostilities” — but a recent report from the United Nations has revealed that the situation in Ethiopia and the adjacent areas is still very violent and unstable, and that there is evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Ethiopian National Defence Force and its allies have been attacking civilians in the most brutal manner, with torture, rape and murder being reported as widespread. The level of sexual violence has been described as “as bad as it gets”. Eritrean forces and Ethiopian soldiers seem to have been the main perpetrators, but it has also been happening in Amhara, carried out by Tigrayan soldiers.

Mohamed Chande Othman, chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia commented that, while signing the agreement “may have mostly silenced the guns”, it has not led to “any comprehensive peace”.

Protest can lead to prison – the  prosecution of Trudi Walker

A decision has been made to prosecute Trudi Walker, a retired social worker who protested outside the Inner London Crown Court in support of climate change protesters. The decision to prosecute her for contempt of court was made by the government’s solicitor general, Michael Tomlinson KC, Conservative MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole. Trudi was holding a placard which stated: “Jurors, You have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience”. If found guilty, she could face a two-year prison sentence.

In the spring this year, Trudi demonstrated with her placard during the trial of four climate change protesters from the group, Insulate Britain, who were accused of causing a public nuisance by blocking traffic in the City of London last October. All were found guilty by the jury. Judge Silas Reid ordered that the defendants should refrain from referring to climate change in their defence. In the summer, for a similar action, Trudi was warned that serious charges could be levelled against her.

A number of lawyers are speaking out in support of Trudi and her fellow campaigners. Michael Mansfield KC stated: “Jury trial is the jewel in the crown of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom and has to be preserved and protected. The right of a jury to return verdicts according to their ‘convictions’ and ‘consciences’ has been enshrined since the trial of two Quakers in 1670 – William Penn and William Mead…No defendant and no defence counsel should be prohibited from referencing this paramount feature of our system.”

The Metropolitan Police, an organisation that has for many years failed our capital city, has begun a criminal investigation against other protesters who have held signs outside courts. One of the possible charges is perverting the course of justice, which could carry a life sentence. 

New laws, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, 2022, and the Public Order Act, 2023, have introduced alarming restrictions on our right to peaceful protest, rights which are severely affected with a new interpretation of ‘disruption’. Equally alarming are the new powers given to the police to enable them to prevent protests or to intervene and make arrests.

In a very recent press release from Defend Our Juries, we have learnt that, on 25th September, 250 people across the country copied Trudi and gave the authorities something to think about. From Truro to Carlisle, 252 members of the public escaped arrest after replicating ‘contempt of court’ action.

Venezuala – the lethal impact of gold

Venezuela has long depended on extractive industries. For many years the country depended on oil, but this changed as a result of US sanctions and the collapse of the oil industry. In 2016, President Nicolás Maduro revealed his plans for mining for gold in the Arco Minero, south of the Orinoco. This has led to a chaotic situation, exacerbated by the actions of the military and armed gangs. It has violated the rights of indigenous people, has led to human rights abuses, and has accelerated deforestation.

In an article at the end of last month, entitled “Gold and mercury, not books, for Venezuela’s child miners” al-Jazeera reported on the tragic effect of mining on the children, some as young as six years old, involved in illegal gold mining in the country. They are missing out on their education, they are exposed to toxic mercury, which is used to extract the gold from ore, and work in exhausting conditions, along with adults, in order that their families may eat and survive. “Small and agile, the children’s size helps them shimmy into narrow wells to hack out muddy earth, hoping it will contain gold — doubled over, they carry heavy bags of earth under the relentless sun to murky puddles of water where they rinse it in wooden trays.”

Tragically, in a world where in the region of 333 million children live in extreme poverty, the children mining for gold in Venezuala are far from alone in their suffering, hunger, and the loss of their childhoods.

Borneo firefighters – The Power of Mamas

Borneo was once almost completely covered with forest. These forests are known for their singular diversity. There are 15,000 plant species, 420 bird species, and 230 mammal species. They are also home to an endangered orangutan population. Almost half the forests have been lost, with the west of the island being particularly affected. One of the causes is slash-and-burn agriculture, and rising temperatures and extremely dry weather have contributed to the crisis. The fires are also a threat to human health and are often stoked by El Niño.

And so the Power of Mamas was born. These women, who include mothers and grandmothers, not only engage in firefighting, but are also educating farmers about the risks of slash-and-burn. They do this by providing information to farmers’ wives; the farmers listen to their wives, they say. The Mamas have received training in basic firefighting and make use of smartphones and drones to locate fires. They travel by motorbike and are fast becoming invaluable in the work to make Borneo more sustainable. They have become extremely well respected in their community, and women in villages in other areas are planning to set up groups too.

Dr Karmele Llano Sanchez, director of YIARI, the Indonesian partner of the charity International Animal Rescue has called them “super-motivated” and added, “They are needed, valued and feel empowered.”

20 mph is too slow say almost half a million Welsh people whilst most drivers comply with new speed limit

A petition calling on the Welsh Government to rescind the decision to implement a 20 mph speed limit on all urban roads has gathered over 420,000 signatures. A demonstration called to protest the widely ignored speed limit attracted 200 people on Saturday 23rd September in Cardiff.

The all-Wales decision comes after Cardiff City Council introduced the speed limit on most urban roads at the beginning of the year. The petition claims that: “The only true evidence is from Belfast and it states it makes NO DIFFERENCE to RTCs!”

The Belfast Study did conclude that in the context of a city centre ban the 20 mph limit “had little impact on long-term outcomes including road traffic collisions, casualties and speed, except for a reduction in traffic volume. This is not quite the definitive evidence claimed by the Welsh petitioners. One reason given in the paper was that in a busy city centre few drivers are able to get above 20 mph anyway making the speed limit of limited use. Research in Bristol which implemented a city-wide 20 mph speed limit in 2018, which is more comparable to the Wales Government plan, found significant reductions in both speed and the number of fatal, serious and slight injuries from road traffic collisions equating to an estimated cost saving of £15 million per year. In Manchester a scheme introduced in 2014 found that casualties among pedestrians reduced between 14-16% and among cyclists 12-16%.

A major assessment of the policy, announced yesterday found that, on average, people were complying with the new speed limits and that there was an average 45-60 second increase in journey times, not the hours being claimed by opponents of the limit. Indeed, the survey by researchers Argyllis shows results they call “astonishing and far greater than would have been predicted.” Most drivers in Wales, it seems are complying with the new speed limits. This, of course, has not prevented the Welsh Conservatives in joining with their English colleagues in a desperate attempt at populism whilst turning their back on safety and the environment.

Looking back in time – the Underground Railroad

The yearning of enslaved people was “an irrepressible desire for freedom which no danger or power could restrain, no hardship deter.” S.J. Celestine Edwards (1891)

The Underground Railroad operated in America from the late 18th century to the time of the Civil War (1861-1865). It was a network of people who offered assistance and shelter to those who had escaped slavery in the South, mainly from Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland, as they fled north. People could earn a great deal of money by recapturing enslaved people, and those who escaped struggled to find hiding places. In the autumn of 1850, 173 years ago, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. It aimed to strengthen the previous law which many in the South did not consider effective. This made it harder for those who had escaped, as all those who were captured had to be returned to the places where they had been enslaved. All the people in free states had to co-operate with the law.

Among the many people – ordinary people, farmers, business owners, ministers, and some very wealthy individuals, who were ‘conductors’ on the Underground Railroad – was abolitionist John Brown. He established the League of Gileadites who worked to help those who escaped to reach Canada. He had plans also to create an independent stronghold of freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. He became best known for leading a raid on the US military arsenal at Harper’s Ferry to create an armed force. This would go far into the South and free enslaved people; but it led to defeat, and John Brown was charged with treason and hanged in 1859. His dedication can be summed up in his statement: “I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause.”

There were, of course, many successes on the Underground Railroad, and many enslaved people were helped to escape; a number of these joined the railroad to help others. One of the conductors was Harriet Tubman who spoke these words: “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Image courtesy of Radical Tea Towel –

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