iron mining steel magnate arctic wildlife cyclists

Natures enriches some and suffers from us all
car pollution critical mass sprawl oil subsidies

Should We Launch an All-Out Assault on Car Culture?

If you stress the environment, the government will pay you. What’s wrong with that picture? We trim, blend, and append four 2011 articles from: (1) Ecologist, Jly 5, on Arctic mining by T. Macalister; (2) Alternet, Jly 8, on cars by T. Harbottle; (3) Update from Clawback, Jly 7, on sprawl by M. Lee; and (4) Truthout, Jly 8, on carbon by R. Brutoco and M. Austin.

by Terry Macalister, by Tyler Harbottle, by M. Lee, and by Rinaldo Brutoco & Madeleine Austin

The melting Arctic ice cap opens a new area of the world to mining speculators. Britain's richest man is planning a giant new opencast mine 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle in a bid to extract a potential $23bn (£14bn) worth of iron ore.

The billionaire steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who is behind the project, wants to exploit a commodity whose value has doubled due to soaring demand from China and India.

Mittal's company, the world's biggest steel-making group, ArcelorMittal, spent nearly $600m (£373m) to seize control of the Mary River deposits in the Nunavut region of the Canadian Arctic.

The company says it will pay more than $2.8bn in taxes to the government of Nunavut over 21 years and that it will spend $1.7bn on labor.

The company admits the operations will be undertaken in an area inhabited by unique wildlife including polar bear, narwhal, and walrus. The wildlife group WWF says it is up to the local Inuit to decide whether the project goes ahead but WWF wants to ensure the plans are sensitive.

WWF’s Martin von Mirbach said “The biggest impact will be from shipping with a ship every 32 hours, year-round. This might not be much off Norway but here with an average of between 0-10 ships a year, it's significant.”

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: Britain’s richest man got that way by controlling a natural resources, something that requires no labor or capital to exist. Being so rich, could he have paid the full annual market value of the minerals? Did he pay it to the right recipient, which is the broader society, the generators of the value?

His corporation says it will pay rent to local government (via taxes) and wages to local workers, yet are the amounts fair? Further, does the rent payment cover the costs of degradation to nature and community? And are the people who live there the only ones with the right to decide when economic activity impacts the global environment?

Whatever answers are just, the issue of man vs. nature can be reduced by humanity using natural resources efficiently, getting more from less. For example, we could cut our demand for iron if we reduced our dependency upon automobiles, into which much of the mined ore goes.

Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler are authors of Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism: On the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, a war-chest of facts, figures and arguments.

Mugyenyi and Engler tell the story of Homo Automotivis, "the result of a century of people living with cars and capitalism.”

Seven-hundred cyclists and 6,000 pedestrians die every year in the U.S. at the hands of the automobile, another 110,000 are injured, they write.

The average American works from the beginning of January till the end of March to pay for their automobile and spends about a month per year traveling in it -- one of every six waking hours.

Aside from fatalities and injuries, noise and air pollution, and urban congestion, Mugyenyi and Engler also blame cars for climate change, obesity, cancer, unemployment, racial segregation, poverty, and even terrorism.

Around the world an "organized uprising" is underway.

Critical Mass, for example, which takes place on the last Friday of every month in more than 300 cities around the world, often pits angry motorists against a "mass" of cyclists, sometimes numbering in the thousands, who clog city streets and bring automobile traffic to a halt.

Earlier this month Vancouver hosted bike-to-work week and Velopalooza 2011, which includes more than 100 different rides and events over the first part of June. The city will celebrate Car-free Day later this month, an event that occurs in 1,500 cities around the world.

Portland has more than 520 kilometres of such favors for bikes as painted bike lanes, some separated bikeways, greenways, and off-street bike paths. These initiatives played a role in driving up the city's cycling mode-share from 3% in 1997 to 7% in 2009, in a country where less than 1% of commuters travel by bike.

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: While such direct action does get some results, it’s main appeal seems to be the thrill of “combat”. Ironically, the automobile in its infancy, when still a plaything of the rich, also took over the public streets and drove off bikes, horses, and pedestrians. Wealthy auto owners successfully lobbied government to pave roads for smoother rides.

Presently cars don’t pay their way. How much land could cars claim vs. bikes if we followed the principle of pay for what you take? What if both drivers and riders paid all their costs on an ongoing basis? Both would pay for the land beneath their right-of-ways but unlike bikes, cars would also pay for all the damage caused by its pollutions.

Also, where building owners, too, pay “rent” for their land below, they use land more efficiently, utilize vacant lots, erect classier, taller structures, closer together. In the resulting compact cities, people’s destinations are closer; with trips shorter, residents can easily walk or ride. The resulting quiet, cleanliness, and safety attract even more people, making it awkward for driving cars and ideal for getting about via muscle power automatically, minimizing any need for social engineering.

Yet rather than recover ground rent, many jurisdictions do just the opposite with dismal results.

Ironically, Paid to Sprawl by Good Jobs First was funded by the [Henry] Ford Foundation. In Ohio, 164 companies were given property tax breaks as they moved facilities around the Cleveland and Cincinnati metro areas. The subsidized relocations were overwhelmingly outward bound, fueling suburban sprawl. Most also moved to locations that are inaccessible via public transportation.

JJS: Happily, some do call for replacing subsidies with user-fee-like taxes.

The clean tech sector has an unprecedented market opportunity:

* Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out nuclear power, Italy has blocked its re-launch, and Japan has announced plans to redo its energy policy "from scratch."

* In the Persian Gulf, "easy oil" is running out, although the precise degree of exhaustion of Saudi Arabian fields is a state secret; "tough oil" is left in their reserves.

* Last year’s worldwide drought has dropped river levels and hydroelectric power plants' output, swelling demand for imported oil -- which will drive oil prices higher.

These developments spell opportunity for alternatives to fossil fuels, though tax and subsidy policy stands in the way.

The US grants Big Oil, the wealthiest industry on the planet, $4 billion in annual subsidies. That figure leaves out the billions spent on stationing the military in the Middle East. Nor does it include pollution; by tolerating pollution, we've let corporations foist some of their costs onto us.

If the environmental and health impacts of coal, oil, and natural gas were included in energy prices, more renewable energy technologies could compete. Wind, geothermal and solar are already competitive.

So prices tell the truth about the cost of fossil fuels, we should impose a tax on carbon-based energy sources. Levy it at the points where they enter the economy -- such as at ports of entry or the mouths of mines. Return most of the revenue to the public; every citizen would periodically receive the same size "dividend" by check or electronic transfer.

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: Since the above arguments are so sound, we should expand the policy. On the tax or fee side, pay for what you take, not what you make. On the spending side, don’t subsidize special interests but benefit everyone equally. It’s fair and efficient, having worked wherever tried. Call it geonomics.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Polar bear's long swim illustrates ice melt

Coal Costs up to a Half Trillion Dollars Annually

Smog may add to diabetes risk

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