I recently saw this demonstration of how mangroves protect shorelines from erosion.
It’s incredible how Mother Nature has developed simple tools to support biodiversity, even against the powerful forces of ocean waves. Unfortunately, we haven’t been the best stewards of these natural gifts.
WWF reports that more than 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone. The figure is as high as 50% in countries such as India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, while in the Americas they are being cleared at a rate faster than tropical rainforests.
I am reminded of the case of Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem, presented in the Al-Jazeera investigation The Disappearing Delta. Louisiana’s bayou, dubbed one of the fastest-disappearing land masses on the planet, has experienced nearly 2,000 square miles of land erased from the state’s map in the last century. Mike Tidwell summarizes the destruction:
“An area of land the size of Manhattan is subtracted from south Louisiana every 10 months – it turns to water. A football field every 30 minutes. An area the size of Delaware since the 1930’s. It’s just astonishing how much land has disappeared.”
This destruction is caused by the fossil fuel industry and their continuous exploration for more product. The clearing of vegetation along coastal habitats leads to rapid erosion, scarring the landscape forever.
Ninety-nine percent of the Isle de Jean Charles, an island once 11 miles long and five miles wide, is now underwater. “[Jean Charles was] destroyed purely by oil and natural gas,” local resident Preston Mayeaux says. “The big deep canals brought in the saltwater intrusion, then they abandoned the canals. And when they abandoned the canals system… the saltwater goes in and out in and out, killing everything, all the vegetation.”
Beyond the environmental destruction, the government now has to pay the price of awarding this precious land to oil and gas exploration. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency (CPRA) is now trying to rebuild land with sediment from the Mississippi River in a $50 billion plan to restore the coast. The only problem? Louisiana doesn’t have that kind of money. “We can’t protect everyone from everything, and there’s an inherent vulnerability living with the coast,” says Jerome Zeringue, head of the CPRA. “Louisiana is doing what it can to participate and protect this valuable resource, but it’s a national issue and a national concern. And we need national interests to support us as well.”
But who’s responsible for the damage? The investigation goes to the disappearing wetlands at Venice gas fields, where Chevron and other major firms have operated for decades. “The oil companies should be involved in [restoration efforts]. They benefited from Louisiana, and the people of Louisiana benefited from the oil companies,” said coastal restoration expert Ryan Lambert. “It’s all a circle. You can’t just blame the oil companies. They need to come to the table and help.”
Baton Rouge attorney Don Carmouche is pursuing a several lawsuits against oil, gas and pipeline companies in two Louisiana parishes. In Plaquemines Parish, an area heavily reliant on the industry for jobs, Councilman Byron Marinovich supported the legal challenge as a way to fund sorely needed restoration efforts. “What we need to do is start building these coasts back so we don’t have these super hurricanes coming through here like Katrina,” he says. In December 2014, he lost his re-election bid to an industry-supported candidate. Not surprisingly, the elections race in Plaquemines Parish was influenced by an organization known as LOGA, or Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
Meanwhile, as Louisiana’s oil industry battles lawsuits onshore, the industry is shifting focus to offshore deep water drilling. Reporters went to the Gulf of Mexico to explore a new frontier for exploration, known as offshore fracking. “The industry has kept pretty silent about the amount of fracking that’s going on, and the federal agencies charged with issuing permits and enforcing environment laws have not revealed very much information,” says Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network.
“We’re talking about fracking that is basically along the entire Louisiana coast,” said Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s in shallow water, near communities…Some of the fracking was actually permitted in the Mississippi Canyon, where the Deepwater Horizon accident was.”
It’s a real shame that the American authorities did not learn from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the gross negligence and reckless conduct of British Petroleum. Instead, the US government continues to give leases to a fossil fuel industry making record profiles while performing extremely risky drilling and exploration. Risky for the coastal environment and everyone who depends on it.
In addition to the vulnerabilities that climate change brings to coastal communities around the world, the destruction of mangrove forests and other coastal habitats by industry, especially fossil fuel companies, leaves people at extreme risk. The costs are far too high. As seen in Louisiana, companies will destroy habitat and then leave the cleanup to the rest of us, while they’ve made incredible profits. People employed by these companies will be left jobless once they leave. Governments will cut social services to pay for the cleanup of corporate greed. We all lose.
“Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. But rarely do these fearful, salacious dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and rarely do they deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike.
“In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the ‘legitimate’ economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. In Playing the Whore, sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.”
– Summary of Playing the Whore from goodreads.com
Debates about prostitution tend to cover many topics, ranging from informal economics to public health, but ultimately comes down to one central element: control. Control of women. Control over women.
Those involved in sex work, whether they use the label of prostitute, sex worker or something else, belong to a part of society largely overlooked by society. Like the homeless or the unemployed, society, generally, looks down upon them while rarely offering respect for their human dignity or considering their current state as a temporary one. Leaders in both public and private sectors rarely given them a chance for inclusion into the rest of society.
Grant’s Playing the Whore is a simple yet exhaustive study of all the areas which affect sex workers, including the police, the media and the groups who see themselves as the ‘savior’. Largely excluded from the discussion on criminality, depiction or alternatives are sex workers themselves.
Just as women of colour and lesbians of generations past had to face off against straight white feminists of movements past, sex workers who seek autonomy and respect have to face off against anti-prostitution feminists today who offer neither. Grant documents how feminists in the anti-prostitution movement organize events and talks about sex work while, without seeing the problem, never including sex workers.
Female sex workers, like the many others who preceded them in the women’s liberation movement, continue to counter the conservative values, often shaped by Christian morality, that come to control their daily life. Although those people who buy sex sometimes face arrest, the burden falls predominantly on the woman. Sex workers face widespread violence and harassment by police officers. Sadly, the rest of society does not value sex workers much better.
In the same way that substance abuse is now seen as a health concern and something that shouldn’t be treated with criminalization and imprisonment, prostitution should be seen as an issue of employment needs. Unfortunately, politicians, supposed “advocates” and others refuse to see their place as seeking harm reduction, as is being done for addicts. Similarly, the role for police in both instances is to protect citizens – all citizens – especially those most vulnerable to receiving harm.
The central element of the book, which is signaled by its subtitle, “The Work of Sex Work”, is that of employment. Bringing her own stories as well as other sex workers, Grant describes the informal nature of today’s sex work. The women’s liberation movement has long been about women’s economic liberation. From unpaid care work to the gender pay gap, women have long suffered from an economy tailored not to them but towards men. Sex work is no different. Grant connects the work of sex work to other forms of self-employment within the informal sector, such as hair stylists, and service industries, like retail. Until all women are given the economic opportunities to live a dignified and comfortable life, these forms of informal or part-time employment will have to be used.
The debate on economics applies to countries around the world. As Grant points out, the movement to “rescue” sex workers in Asia and elsewhere does not address the economic, political and social disadvantages sex workers face inside and outside the profession. Even if victimized women are rescued, they receive little more than job training to low-paid labour. A sign in a Cambodia textile shop employing former sex workers point to this realization. It reads:
DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT SEWING MACHINES. TALK TO ME ABOUT WORKERS’ RIGHTS.
Until we begin to see women – all women – as equal members of society, short-term fixes will not have the power to liberate sex workers when they continue to live in poverty. For those women who are left without alternative employment, decriminalization and support should be a first priority, not fear of the police and exclusion from ‘mainstream’ workers.
The debate between a woman’s right to self-determination and conservative traditional values in society is linked to another contentious issue: abortion.
The first feminist wave gave women the right to vote. The second wave gave women the Pill, and control of their reproductive rights.
In the United States, like most countries around the world, abortion was important for family planning but seen as a criminal action. This period, half a century ago, was also marked by near total male representation in politics. In 1973, the US Supreme Court determined that abortion was a constitutionally protected act with Roe v. Wade. Since then, conservative groups have fought to make abortion illegal or impossible to get.
The documentary TRAPPED showcases doctors who perform abortions in some states in the United States who have fought against so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. Since 2011, states in the South and Midwest have passed more than 300 abortion restrictions — TRAP laws, admitting privilege requirements, rules for how medication abortions may be performed, bans on abortion after 20 weeks (and sometimes earlier), longer waiting periods, and greater impediments to teenagers seeking abortions without parental approval.
Earlier this year, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the US Supreme Court found that TRAP laws in Texas placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and thus violate the Constitution. This is a major victory for women’s rights and may signal the beginning of TRAP laws being overruled across the nation.
TRAPPED follows in the footsteps of other documentary films shining a light on the battle over a woman’s right to choose. Six years ago, 12th & Delaware revealed the fight on the titular street corner in Fort Pierce, Florida, between a for-profit abortion clinic and a Roman Catholic Church-supported pregnancy clinic whose mission is to prevent women from obtaining abortions. While the abortion clinic takes precautions against threats of violence and fends off protesters, the pregnancy clinic actively spreads misinformation to women about the dangers of abortion.
A decade ago, Lake of Fire depicted the heated abortion debate that was already waging for decades in America. Leaving no stone unturned, it featured graphic footage of actual medical procedures and presented people on both pro-choice and pro-life sides of the issue.
These films add to the lengthy abortion debate in the United States and reveal the tactics of those groups opposed to a women’s right to choose how her pregnancy is managed. Ultra-conservative and Christian groups lie to pregnant women, spreading misinformation and fear. They set up anti-abortion pregnancy centres, which act as red herrings to women who are seeking abortions, while never disclosing their real ideology. These tactics show no respect towards pregnant women who, for whatever reason, have decided that a medically-assisted abortion is the right decision. Instead, they fool pregnant women, delaying their decision beyond what the law allows and, in effect, force vulnerable to follow through with their pregnancy against their will. A shameful game of politics over people.
The abortion debate in the United States has not been peaceful either. Groups like Operation Rescue and others promote violence to achieve their ends. It’s not just psychological violence. Although conservative and Christian groups regularly protest outside clinics and yell at women who enter, they also conduct terrorism. Male opponents to abortion (it’s almost always men who become violent) have repeatedly assassinated doctors and fire-bombed clinics, spreading fear and pressuring providers to close their doors. The entire anti-abortion movement ultimately furthers these horrendous acts of violence through their misinformation and shaming protests. Sadly, this violence in the name of opposing reproductive rights is not limited to only the US.
The concept of rescue is found in the ideologies of both anti-prostitution and anti-abortion. Rescue from what? Rescuing women from themselves, it seems. From decisions about their health, their well-being, their finances, and their work. The debate doesn’t typically expand past what to do once women are “rescued”. They are thrown back into society to fend for themselves without the political, economic or social support they may have wanted in the first place.
It’s difficult to ignore the irony at the center of debates on women’s rights: the loudest voices aren’t women. Men make up the majority of anti-abortion advocates. One of the biggest anti-abortion voices is the Catholic Church, which is built around female subservience to male clergy. Male legislatures pass laws without talking to female voters.
Although women are often found protesting prostitution and abortion, the organisations they represent are, more often than not, led by men. Men who will never be pregnant. Men who have more employment opportunities than women and who can purchase sex from prostitutes without fear of much prosecution or persecution.
Men need to stand aside and listen, rather than stand at the front and dominate the discussion. We need to stop making decisions about those we know little about.
Ultimately, the fight is not over whose morals should dominate because this is not a debate over ideas; it’s a debate over people. People who have the right to determine their own lives. All human beings deserve dignity.
All struggles are connected since, as the organisation Black Women for Wages for Housework said, “When prostitutes win, all women win.” Hookers and housewives unite!
Last month, I watched a number of new documentaries. Three of these stood out thanks to their connective stories.
Three stories that each follow an American protagonist.
Three legal battles over ideology, whether good or bad.
Three very different areas of society that link past challenges to future opportunities, through present discussions.
Past: Welcome to Leith
White supremacist Craig Cobb tries to take over a small town in North Dakota. As his behavior becomes more threatening, residents wrestle with democratic principles as they try to get rid of their unwanted neighbor.
Welcome to Leith looks at the two unfortunate realities in the United States that intersect in a small town in North Dakota: the economic decline of rural America and the long history of white nationalist hatred. Leith is a town of about 30 people, where the mayor also drives the school bus. With many people leaving for the opportunities, land and houses are for sale for extremely low prices.
The United States has a long history of white supremacy, going back to the end of the Civil War and the creation of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It’s not surprising that hate groups formed, since the country was founded on the economic model of enslaving humans of a darker complexion. These early hate groups used terrorism against groups they hated (African Americans) as well as groups that challenged them (white Americans). It hasn’t ended either. Many hate groups now use Nazi propaganda and imagery to continue to promote white supremacy.
With its small population and isolated geography, one white supremacist moved into town and tried to turn Leith into a fascist paradise. Craig Cobb and his associated started by flying Nazi flags and interrupting town meetings but soon moved to patrolling the community with guns. This was too much for the town and inevitably lead to Cobb’s arrest.
This confrontation between a small town and a group with small-minded ideas should not be seen in isolation. Hate groups have a long history within the United States and need to be taken on by everyone, especially white Americans who have sat by while these groups spread hate and commit white terrorism inside the country.
Present: Unlocking the Cage
Lawyer Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project file lawsuits to give animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants limited personhood rights.
Steven Wise is President of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). Thee NhRP fights for the rights of highly intelligent nonhumans who have long been seen as things and not beings. Unlocking the Cage follows their recent battles to have chimpanzees freed from their cages using the legal writ of habeas corpus (freedom from unlawful detention), which has never been applied to nonhuman animals before.
Across the world, several groups of people are fighting for their rights – right to be recognized as fully human. In the United States, it wasn’t too long ago that African Americans were deemed to be worth three-fifths of a white American. It took time but this injustice was eventually overcome through changes in the law and fights in the courts. Steven Wise wants to give the same rights to the most intelligent of nonhuman creatures, those who can speak and think like a human child can.
Biological, psychological and other scientific research in recent years has shown that the animals that the NhRP fights for – chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants – have the ability to use language, to use tools, to pass learning down through generations, to develop communities, to understand complex thoughts. These discoveries are broadening the understanding of what our world truly offers. We, as human beings, must work towards ending the pain and violence directed towards highly sentient creatures, understanding that they are not just things.
Unlocking the Cage continues the path of humanity towards a more just world where all beings, whether human or not, are deserving of respect and a peaceful existence. Here’s hoping that the NhRP will continue their legal fights and begin to challenge society’s consciousness for the better.
Future: Deep Web
A feature documentary that explores the rise of a new Internet; decentralized, encrypted, dangerous and beyond the law.
Deep Web chronicles the rise of the black market website Silk Road, were users could purchase illegal drugs anonymously, and Bitcoin, a digital currency that is all but untraceable to authorities. Beyond the hidden nature of these tools, the film explores the politics that led to their creation and use.
The film covers the trial of Ross Ulbricht, known under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts, who was convicted of creating and running the Silk Road until his 2013 arrest. On its surface it is difficult to know whether Ulbricht is responsible for all of the crimes alleged since the DPR account was used by multiple persons.
Deeper down, the understand the saga of the Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht is to examine the United States’ “War or Drugs” and the response of libertarian free-market solutions crafted by Ulbricht and many others. Ulbricht wished to “use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind” and claimed that he was “creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”
Like the mythical Hydra, the Silk Road has now sprouted dozens of offshoots with the same purpose. Bitcoin is becoming a household name and being used for purchasing more products digitally each day. Ultimately, politics and economics will become more intertwined with the Internet and digital technology in the future. Whether society is ready to deal with that fact is to be seen.