Hot Take Premium: There’s a Reason the First Amendment Is First

Hot Take Premium: There’s a Reason the First Amendment Is First

Hey Hot Cakes!

It’s been a terrible week. A terrible, horrible, very bad, no good week. There’s still a pandemic and the police are straight up rioting and the calls for authoritarianism are getting louder and clearer. It’s not affecting everyone equally, but we find it hard to believe it’s not affecting you at all. If you were expecting Hot Take, as a climate newsletter, to get “thinner” this week, well, you’re very wrong. Not only is the climate story still relevant, it’s not even separable from everything else going on, as you’ll see below. We even managed to find some moments of levity (one of them is included as a little bonus audio with this week’s newsletter, above).

Please take care of yourselves and each other. This is a real community, and we really do care about you.

Oil and Gas Companies Are Out to Crush the First Amendment

By Amy Westervelt

In the immediate aftermath of the Standing Rock protests in 2016, the fossil fuel industry began mobilizing on a couple of fronts: getting all parts of the oil and gas supply chain deemed "critical infrastructure," and passing state laws that would criminalize protest around critical infrastructure sites. A dark money-funded organization drafted model legislation in 2017, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which suggests stiff fines and jail time not only for protestors, but also for groups that organize protests. 11 states—including Missouri, home to the original Black Lives Matter march, in Ferguson—have passed laws based on that model legislation since 2017, according to the International Center for Nonprofit Law, and similar bills are pending in 22 more (including Minnesota, epicenter of the George Floyd protests). Three states—Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia—have passed laws criminalizing protest around critical infrastructure just since March, while folks were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, right around the time  oil and gas operatives were shouting that it “wasn’t the time to talk about climate.” A bill proposed in Louisiana, a major oil, gas and petrochemical state, would require a 3-year minimum jail sentence for protestors caught trespassing on fossil fuel land.

As part of its pandemic wishlist, the American Petroleum Institute asked the White House to give blanket federal "critical infrastructure" designation to all parts of the energy system. That wording was significant not just because it could set up oil and gas companies to tap into a $17 billion pot of COVID-19 relief money targeted at industries deemed essential to national security, but also because it sets the industry up for its long term strategy of passing enough state bills criminalizing pipeline protest to push for federal legislation.

We're already seeing non-oil and gas states consider these bills, too, which is deeply concerning, especially in the midst of nationwide protests of police brutality. In May, HuffPost reported that the Alabama state legislature, for example, moved a bill forward that would add new criminal penalties to nonviolent protests against pipelines and other fossil fuel projects. It was a weird move given that Alabama has no major pipeline projects planned.

The idea is creeping into Congress, as well. Last July, two-term Republican Sen. Deb Fisher of Nebraska and Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois introduced the “PIPES Act of 2019.” The version that’s currently on the docket of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation consists of pretty standard updates to pipeline safety regulations, but the original bill included language and ideas from ALEC’s model legislation. That earlier draft of the 2019 PIPES Act proposed to “strengthen the existing criminal penalty measures for damaging or destroying a pipeline facility,”  including facilities under construction as well as completed pipelines, and specifying that “vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting, or inhibiting the operation of a pipeline facility are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment.”

This language did not make it into the final bill, which is expected to pass, but it’s unlikely to be the last attempt at federal anti-protest legislation. That was true even before Trump decided to name Antifa "terrorists." Antifa— which stands for anti-fascist, apparently a bad thing to be in the U.S. right now— is not an organized group, so law enforcement could theoretically accuse anyone of being Antifa and prosecute them as terrorists (which includes indefinite incarceration). It's like McCarthyism on steroids and it targets any type of protester.

If such attempts are successful, fossil fuel companies will be able to call upon federal law enforcement to undercut our First Amendment right to free assembly; never mind that oil execs are often big into the Second Amendment, or that they've used the First Amendment over and over themselves, because apparently freedom of speech covers lying now. It was a chilling thought before we saw footage of riot police beating protestors and targeting journalists and medics. Now it's downright terrifying.

Various media outlets have started to pick up on this story recently, if you want to read up on it:

'Protesters as terrorists': growing number of states turn anti-pipeline activism into a crime, by Susie Cagle in The GuardianA look at the 18 state proposals on this front from 2017 to 2019.

Y’all, Do Me a Favor, Real Quick?

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Okay, so Twitter’s been rough lately, so I been avoiding it, right? But this Thursday, idk what comes over me but I says to Myself, “Self?”

And Myself said, “Hm?”

And I was like, “Remember that avalanche of brands this week that came out the woodwork talking about Black Lives Matter? I wonder if the 4 Billy Goats were part of that?”

So I went on Twitter to look and see if these fools had come out of their face trying to get on the “brandwagon.” @ExxonMobil? No, Exxon ain’t said shit since May 27 and it had nothing to do with nothing. @Shell? Nope, they focusing on India.

But @BP_plc? Yes, yes, they did. These fools had the nerve to share a note from their CEO talking about how they wanna be a diverse and inclusive workplace. With, I presume, a straight face.

Look, there’s a lot wrong with this and this newsletter has word limits. (Like, I gotta wonder if the “diversity” lives where the most dangerous jobs are?) But as someone who fancies herself an amateur Twitter troll, it lowkey hurt my feelings that this tweet didn’t get trolled harder. I mean, I’d do it but I’m trying to take a breather from the old Twitter machine.

So, can y’ me a favor real quick?

P.S. Shout out to Emily Atkin over at HEATED who had a similar idea and dug in even deeper than I did!

P.P.S. On Saturday, Amy told me that Chevron actually did manage to come out of their face and comment, and… I couldn’t help myself. I’m human!

Please, Listen to the Floodlines Podcast

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

At a time when journalism seems to be under attack every which way, including from inside, I want you to know that the Floodlines podcast from The Atlantic is a tour-de-force of what journalism is really capable of. Vann Newkirk and his team take their time and dig in deep to create a careful and caring post-mortem of one of the worst disasters to ever hit this country and one that still haunts us: Hurricane Katrina.

The podcast takes us through the story at the macro and micro levels through meticulous research and tender interviews. They found a lot of clips and information that corroborated memories that I had buried as well as some things I’d tried to dig up for my essay last year in Guernica, but, well, I’m not that great of a researcher. They even have a cringe- and listen-worthy interview with Michael “Hueckuva Job Brownie” Brown. (Let’s just say...hell hath no fury like a white man held accountable.)

My only small, teeny, tiny gripe is that the podcast doesn’t dig far into the vigilante violence in New Orleans after Katrina. But, honestly, that’s a great excuse for a second season—though probably with another reporter. Maybe not a good idea to send a Black man to talk to those folks.

Folks, as we enter into a hurricane season that promises to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, it’s important to remember how bad the storms we’ve already seen really were. Listen to Floodlines.

Extra bonus, this week, me and Amy talked about the Boogaloo Boys, a pretty dangerous militia movement that’s popping up at Reopen protests as well as Black Lives Matter protests and put the phenomena in conversation with the vigilante violence in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Eat Dirt, Steve King

By Amy Westervelt

Multiple studies (including my favorite, here) have shown that the Venn diagram of racists, misogynists, and climate deniers is a perfect circle. This week, voters in Iowa told the walking shitty Venn diagram—Steve King—to eat dirt. King lost his primary to another Republican. It's hard to tell if his opponent, Randy Feenstra, a state senator, is equally, less, or more racist than King, or how he stacks up against King in other ways, but for one brief moment, let us dance on Steve’s political grave.

Steve King has been representing the 4th district of Iowa (a huge amount of land with relatively few people, in the western half of the state) in the House of Representatives since 2003. In that time, he has delivered such hits as:

  • Climate change is actually good for us! The worst and most ridiculous of the climate deniers make claims about CO2 being good for the planet—more plants!—and King takes it one step further to argue that climate change in general  is good. King thinks we don't talk nearly enough about the good side of climate change. "It will rain more in more places. It might rain harder in some places, it might snow in some of those places. But it's surely gotta shrink the deserts and expand the green growth, there's surely got to be some good in that. So I just look at the other, good side."
  • Global warming is bullshit, like religionOne of King's most epic gaffs, because he accidentally insulted religious people in his excitement over dunking on climate change. In a local Iowa paper, King said efforts to fight global warming were both economically harmful and unnecessary. “It is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science."
  • Starting the "build the wall" nonsense King completely made up the stat that 25 Americans or legal residents die each day at the hands of illegal aliens and used it to help gin up anti-immigration sentiment in the run-up to Trump's election.
  • What's so offensive about a little white supremacy? King has a long history of racism, anti-immigration sentiment, and a real soft spot for Hitler. But it was a 2019 interview with The New York Times that was apparently a step too far for the GOP. In it, King said “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” He later clarified in a statement that he is a "nationalist" who supports "western civilization values," but not a white supremacist. That shady explanation didn't help; King was booted out of all his committee seats and generally became persona non grata in the Republican party (imagine being too racist for Trump Republicans?), which ultimately led to his defeat this week. Despite the fact that the GOP is running a more palatable candidate, it's not impossible for the Dem candidate to score King's seat—the last time it was up for grabs the Dems only lost by 2 percent  of the vote.
  • A necessity defense for rape and incest Steve King thinks even sexually assaulted women should be denied abortion. Why? Uhhhh birth rates. The birth rate thing is a weird little rabbit hole in white supremacist land. Dudes are real worried about what Steve Bannon liked to call the "demographic winter" bearing down on us because of the declining birth rates–particularly of white women. Any other type of woman having too many kids is, of course, also a problem. Somehow for King this all turned into a pro-rape and incest comment. He argued, hey, not all reproduction is perfect. "What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that has taken place? And whatever happened to culture after society, I know that I can't certify that I am not a part of the product of that.” We, also, can't certify that Mr. King is not a product of incest.

Now You Wanna Listen?

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

First Ahmaud Arbery. Then Breonna Taylor. Then George Floyd. Now, video after video of people—mostly Black people—being utterly terrorized and brutalized by the police. My Twitter feed has become an endless river of trauma, so I’ve tried to stay off it

However, even in my scant Twitter checks (sadly, Twitter is probably the best source of immediate news if you, like me, live in one of the hotbeds of unrest), I’ve noticed a theme: repeated declarations that “now is the time to listen to voices of color.” I’ve seen myself tagged in several and the number of subscriptions to my Green Voices of Color list has jumped dramatically.

I know folks think they’re making a noble statement, but honestly it just sounds to me like an admission of guilt. First of all, you mean Black people, not “people of color,” especially right now, so just say that. And your decision to listen to us now lets me know that you haven’t been listening, because I sure as hell didn’t just start speaking. Black people didn’t just now grow voiceboxes. What do you expect us to say now that we haven’t said before?

We’ve been writing and raving and screaming and standing on tables and banging on doors forever—and now you want to listen? Now that our throats have gone raw? When we’ve lost countless nights of sleep in grief and fear? Now that every word gets caught in a lump in my throat? Now that I have nothing to say to you because I need all my energy for myself and for my people?

Furthermore, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. Specifically, after the 2016 election, there were a million calls to “listen to Black women.” In the 1960’s, James Baldwin and others like him heard it at the start of every damn summer. This is the longest, most anguished, most bullshittest-listening tour on earth!

It’s past time to “listen” to Black people. It’s time to stand with Black people. It’s time to bail Black people out. It’s time to pay Black people—including me so thank you for subscribing. It’s time to evaluate what you have to give and give it to Black people—and no I don’t mean in no goofy-ass stunt like this. It’s time to protect Black peoplewith your body if you have to. In other words, it’s time to do exactly what the fuck we’ve been telling you to do.

P.S To all the white ladies trying to out-woke each other on the Twitter machine, I see you, I hear you, and I desperately want you to STFU. “Love and light” is the new “thoughts and prayers.”

P.P.S. Yes, I have written extensively on the connections between climate and race. No, I will not link the articles here. Google me.


This week in climate coverage:

Justice is Justice is Justice

How the Climate Movement Can Be Anti-Racist By Somini Sengupta in The New York Times

As Protests Rage Over George Floyd’s Death, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers in InsideClimate News

Racism derails our attempts to fight the climate crisis  By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in The Washington Post

There Is No Climate Justice Without Defunding the Police By Brian Khan in Earther

Why Black Birdwatchers Are Sharing Their Passion This Week by Yessenia Funes in Earther

Covid-19 is revealing America's underbelly of rampant environmental racism By Ari Kelo in The Rising

Climate activists voice support for George Floyd protesters and confront green movement's issues with race By Louise Boyle in The Independent

Defunding the Police Is Good Climate Policy By Kate Aronoff in The New Republic

Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues By Bill McKibben in The New Yorker

Just like COVID-19, racial justice is also a climate story By Mark Hertsgaard in Columbia Journalism Review

Why racial justice is climate justice By Claire Elise Johnson in Grist

A Black Male Meteorologist On Racial Inequity And Action From The Weather Community By Marshall Sheperd in Forbes

Hurricanes disproportionately harm communities of color. TV news ignores that fact. By Emily Pontecorvo in Grist

Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment By Somini Sengupta in The New York Times

Nature Didn’t Heal

Economic Giants Are Restarting. Here’s What It Means for Climate Change. By Somini Sengupta in The New York Times

US lets corporations delay paying environmental fines amid pandemic By Emily Holden in The Guardian

Earth's carbon dioxide levels hit record high, despite coronavirus-related emissions drop By Andrew Freeman and Chris Mooney in The Washington Post

At Least SOME Countries Are Planning a Green Pandemic Recovery

How renewable energy could emerge on top after the pandemic By Beth Gardiner in Grist

How South Korea, France, and Italy are using the Covid-19 response to fight climate change By Umair Irfan in Vox

Amazon Just Keeps Sucking More

How Amazon Is Bringing the Keystone XL Pipeline Online By Steve Horn in OneZero

Amazon Is Getting Called Out by Its Own Workers for 'Environmental Racism' By Drew Costley in OneZero

So Many Crises, So Little Time

Natural Disasters Made Worse by COVID-19 Are Already Here by Brishti Basu in Vice

Climate change threatens the economy. Here’s what regulators can do right now. By Emily Pontecorvo in Grist

Deforestation, oil spills, and coronavirus: Crises converge in the Amazon By Rachel Ramirez in Grist

New Study Shows Global Warming Intensifying Extreme Rainstorms Over North America By Bob Berwyn in InsideClimate News

Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise By Bob Berywyn in InsideClimate News

‘Going in the Wrong Direction’: More Tropical Forest Loss in 2019 By Henry Fountain in The New York Times

E.P.A. Limits States’ Power to Oppose Pipelines and Other Energy Projects By Lisa Friedman in The New York Times

Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You By Tatianna Schlossberg in The New York Times

More Than 500 Vertebrate Species Are on the Brink of 'Biological Annihilation' By Yessenia Funes in Earther

State of emergency: 20,000 tonnes of diesel spill into Arctic river – video from The Guardian

Sea Level Rise Could Drown Mangrove Forests By 2050 By Dharna Noor in Earther

Here Comes Hurricane Season

It wouldn’t be 2020 without an above-average hurricane season By Justine Calma in The Verge

Hurricane Season Collides With Coronavirus, as Communities Plan For Dual Emergencies By James Bruggers and Amy Green in InsideClimate News

What Used to Be 100-Year Rain Events Could Happen Every 5 Years By Dharna Noor in Earther


Bernie-friendly DNC panel pushes Biden to back $16T climate plan By Zack Colman in Politico

6 tips for becoming a youth activist (as told by a youth activist) By Rachel Ramirez in Grist

We are eating shrimp in record numbers. But for how much longer? By Megan Mayhew Bergman

Three years of corporate broadcast news hurricane coverage failed to mention specific risks to marginalized communities By Evlondo Cooper in Media Matters for America

Big Oil Wanted Changes To Worker Safety Rule. Emails Show Top Trump Official ‘Agreed.’ By Chris D’Angelo and Alexander C. Kaufman in The Huffington Post

P.S. Why do bees have sticky hair?

Because they use a honeycomb.


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