18 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 15-21, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com 7. Fossil fuel investors sue governments to block climate regulations. “Litigation terrorism.” That’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called the practice of fossil fuel companies and investors suing governments in secretive private tribunals to thwart climate change policies. Litigants claim climate change laws undermine their profits, and thus they must be compensated under what’s known as “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) legal actions, Rishika Pardikar reported for The Lever, following a paper in Science by lead author Kyla Tienhaara. “The five countries with the greatest potential losses from ISDS are Mozambique ($7-31 billion), Guyana ($5-21 billion), Venezuela ($3-21 billion), Russia ($2-16 billion), and the United Kingdom ($3-14 billion),” Tienhaara reported. What’s more, “If countries decide to also cancel oil and gas projects that are currently under development, this could introduce substantial additional financial losses from ISDS claims.” The litigation could have a chilling effect for leaders to take climate action. “New Zealand, for example, recently said that it could not join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, an international consortium of governments working to phase out fossil fuels, because doing so ‘would have run afoul of investor-state settlements,’” Lois Parshley reported for Grist. Tienhaara’s paper ended with a section titled “An Abolitionist Approach.” She warned, “Reformist approaches would be time-consuming and likely ineffectual, based on the experience of previous efforts.” That means negotiating the “removal of ISDS clauses from trade agreements, as the United States did with Canada in the U.S.-MexicoCanada Agreement,” is also possible, or for states to withdraw consent to ISDS in cases involving fossil fuel investments, emulating the approach taken by Singapore and others to remove the threat of ISDS claims from the tobacco industry. 8. Proximity to oil and gas extraction sites linked to maternal and childhood health risks. Based on 1996-2009 data for more than 2.8 million pregnant women in Texas, researchers from Oregon State University found that for pregnant women within 1 kilometer of oil and gas drilling sites, there’s about a 5-percent increase in odds of gestational hypertension, and a 26-percent increase odds of eclampsia. Meanwhile, a study from Yale found, “Young children living near fracking wells at birth [less than 2 kilometers are up to three times more likely to later develop leukemia,” according to a story in The Guardian. “Hundreds of chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues may be used in the [fracking] process, including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, benzene and radioactive material.” The study, based on 2009-2017 data from Pennsylvania, compared 405 children aged 2-7 diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia with an additional 2,080 children, matched on birth year, who didn’t have leukemia. “The allowable setback in Pennsylvania, where our study was conducted, is 500 feet,” Yale researcher Cassandra Clark said. “Our findings… in conjunction with evidence from numerous other studies suggest that existing setback distances are insufficiently protective of children’s health.” State and local governments have tried to create health buffer zones, but faced industry pushback. For example, “In 2018, the oil industry spent upwards of $40 million to defeat a Colorado ballot measure that would have imposed 2,500-foot setback requirements for drillers. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new proposed rules that would require 3,200-foot setbacks on new oil and gas drilling, which would be the strongest in the nation, but those rules would not affect existing wells. 9. A deadly decade for environmental activists. At least 1,733 environmental activists were murdered between 2012 and 2021, according to the Global Witness study. Patrick Greenfield reported for The Guardian that Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras were the deadliest countries. “This has been going on for decades,” scientist, activist, and author Vandana Shiva wrote in a foreword to the report. The killing of environmental activists has been concentrated in the Global South, with 39 percent of victims from Indigenous communities, despite that group constituting only 5 percent of the world population. “This is about land inequality, in that defenders are fighting for their land, and in this increasing race to get more land to acquire and exploit resources, the victims are indigenous communities, local communities, whose voices are being suppressed,” the BBC summed up. Advocates are hopeful that progress is being made, citing the sentencing of a former energy executive to 22 years in prison in Honduras for the murder of world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres in 2016, as well as promising international agreements. The Escazú agreement, the first environmental and human rights treaty for Latin America and the Caribbean, “commits countries to prevent and investigate attacks on environmental defenders.” It took effect in 2021, although some countries, including Brazil and Colombia, have not ratified it so far. 10. Corporate profits hit record high and Wall Street bonuses skyrocket. “Corporate profits in the U.S. surged to an all-time record of $2 trillion in the second quarter of 2022 as companies continued jacking up prices, pushing inflation to a 40-year high to the detriment of workers and consumers,” Jake Johnson reported for Common Dreams. This followed Johnson’s reporting that the average bonus for Wall Street employees rose an astounding 1,743 percent between 1985 and 2021, according to an analysis by Inequality. org of New York State Comptroller data. Then, in December 2022, he reported that “earnings inequality in the United States has risen dramatically over the past four decades and continues to accelerate, with the top 0.1 percent seeing wage growth of 465 percent between 1979 and 2021 while the bottom 90 percent experienced just 29 percent growth during that same period,” according to research by the Economic Policy Institute. As a result, the average incomes of the top 0.1 percent rose from 20 times that of the bottom 90 percent in 1979 to more than 90 times as much in 2021. Meanwhile, the mainstream news coverage has focused on inflation as a pretext for hiking prices. In addition, “The EPI study on the accelerating incomes of the ultrarich was virtually ignored,” Macek and Roth found. Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Salon and Al Jazeera English. ©Random Lengths News 2023. Learn more about Project Censored at projectcensored.org. “Corporate profits in the U.S. surged to an all-time record.”