Friday, May 27, 2016

Hopis: Protectors of Earth and Water

A Hopi maiden, honored with the task of collecting water for their sacred ceremony, steps down the steep, rocky trail to the ancient spring.  As she climbs, she recalls the sacred covenant that her people made with Maasaw, the caretaker of the earth. Maasaw entrusted the tribe with the 3 POINTS needed to build a strong society.

  • An ear of corn: representing food for the body and soul.
  • A gourd of water: the gourd being a reminder that the water (from a confined aquifer) is limited so it must be preserved.
  • The planting stick: the simple technology necessary to grow things in the desert.
She affirms the covenant her tribe made to be humble farmers, respectful of the land and the water. She bends down to scoop up some water with a gourd. But the water level has gone down so far that she can barely reach it. This is one of a few springs still flowing on the Hopi nation.  

The Hopi tribe is a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona. The reservation occupies part of Coconino and Navajo counties, encompassing more than 1.5 million acres. It is made up of 12 villages situated on three mesas. Their pueblo-style villages were settled in 900 AD. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements in the Americas and the people still maintain their culture. These resourceful people developed a method of dry land farming that sustained them as long as they kept their covenant to protect the water.

In the 1960s, the American government strong-armed the Hopi and Navajo into signing an agreement with the world’s largest coal company.  In 1970, Peabody Energy started strip mining their mesas destroying hundreds of archaeological sites.  From 1970 – 2005 alone over 45 billion gallons of pristine drinking water was pumped out of their confined desert aquifer to transport slurry (ground coal mixed with water) through pipes to a power generator in Nevada.  That was enough water to last the whole tribe of 10,000 for 300 years.

The tribe has paid dearly for breaking the covenant to protect the earth and water. Close to 400 million gallons of pristine drinking water is still pumped annually for the Kayenta Mine. Peabody pays them 3/10 of a cent per gallon.  Most of the rivers and streams that sustained the tribe since ancient times have dried up or have been polluted by runoff from the mine.

The coal is used to run the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona. The Western United States' largest generating system was built to power the pumps that push Colorado River water over 300 miles UPHILL to Phoenix and Tucson as part of the Central Arizona Project. Yes, that’s how we get our CAP water.

Because of the name, people think that it is owned by the Navajo people. It’s not. The tribes don’t get any of the water or power. Many people live in poverty with no running water or electricity. They drive 20 miles for drinking water. The U.S. government pronounced their sacred land a national sacrifice area in order to build up the southwest.
On top of that, the tribes were cheated out of the fair market value for the land and water. The Hopi receive only two million dollars a year, while Peabody generates $5.6 billion. To put this in perspective, their CEO alone makes three million dollars a year.  

Before their land was savaged by the mines, these tribes were self-sufficient farmers and shepherds. They are now forced to rely on the mines for roughly 50 percent of their jobs. The remainder are unemployed.

Vernon Masayesva, the founder of Black Mesa Trust, is fighting to shut down the coal powered generator permanently and replace it with solar energy.  This fight isn’t just for the Hopi and Navajo people. It is for all of us. The amount of pollution this plant is making is appalling. EPA spokesman Rusty Harris-Bishop confirmed that the Navajo Generating Station is one of the largest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country.  It is an UPHILL battle, because many tribe members won’t hear of shutting down the mines, since family members still work there.

 An honored storyteller, Vernon evokes the revered teachings of the ancients on the 3 POINTS needed to build a strong society: an ear of corn, a gourd of water and the planting stick. He encourages the tribe to renew their covenant with Maasaw to be protectors of the land and the water. Black Mesa Trust is currently conducting workshops to teach their teens how to harvest the rain water and return to the ancient methods of dry desert farming. The Hopi Raincatchers are using traditional and modern knowledge to build ravines with boulders to restore their watersheds. 

 “Traditions, history about who we are, and where we came from, and what our responsibility is to the world and to peoples all over the world. That is one of our main moral obligations,” Vernon explains. “To be protectors of the land, to be good stewards of the land.  Which is why this mining company is such an intrusion on our way of life. It’s a violation of our beliefs.”

We have so much to learn about being sustainable in our desert from the Hopi way of life. They share important lessons about protecting and being good stewards of the earth.  The people of Tucson’s Mission Garden are incorporating similar dry land farming techniques and learning how to grow sturdy heritage plants from the Tohono O’odham.

Even after being exploited, the Hopi feel a great responsibility to share what they have learned with the rest of the world. They are leading the Water Movement.

It’s time Tucson joined that movement. Recently, poisonous tailings from abandoned mines seeped into the streams that feed the Colorado River. The water in the reservoirs is evaporating at record rates. As temperatures continue to rise and more states experience droughts, there will be even more competition for that water.  

As we wake up to the reality that we don’t have an unlimited supply of water, there is much we can learn from the devastating impact of coal mining on the Hopi and Navajo lands. Currently, a foreign mining company has plans to build a mine on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. They will take advantage of an antiquated 1880s law and pay the tribe $5 an acre. The proposed Rosemont mine will destroy the desert habitat where the people gather their food, and contaminate their streams and rivers.  It will also deplete 20% of Tucson’s ground water.

Our representatives are pushing for these mines because they create jobs. But those jobs are temporary.  Ask the 400 workers who just lost their jobs at the mine near Green Valley or the Peabody workers whose wages will be decreased to cut back costs as the company reorganizes. Peabody just filed for Chapter 11 protection and is trying to avoid complying with the new pollution controls. But that won’t stop the company from pursuing more profit by expanding their operations on the Hopi reservation. (The mining company wants to expand, increasing coal production to 5.7 million tons a year and increase the water use by 33%.) It just allows the company to place the burden of cleaning up their mines on American taxpayers. 

UPDATE: Since this blog was written, Congress passed a law allowing mining companies to dump their toxic tailings into our waterways and not be responsible for the clean up.  

It’s time to join the movement to preserve our precious water by implementing sustainable desert farming practices and supporting a transition from fossil fuel energy to solar power. Let’s unite with our indigenous brothers and sisters and proclaim our Declaration of Water.

Declaration of Water

As children of water,
we raise our voices in solidarity to speak for all waters.
Water, the breath of all life, water the sustainer of all life,
water the voice of our ancestors, water pristine
and powerful.
Today we join hands, determined to honor,
trust and follow the ancient wisdom of our ancestors
whose teachings and messages continue to
live through us.
The message is clear: Honor and respect water
as a sacred and life-giving gift from the Creator of Life.
Water, the first living spirit on Earth.
All living beings come from water,
all is sustained by water,
all will return to water to begin life anew.
We are of water, and the water is of us.
When water is threatened, all living things are
What we do to water, we do to ourselves.
Adopted at the Hopi Hisot Navoti Gathering
October 23, 2003 Second Mesa, Arizona

Here's how you can help  Black Mesa Trust.

UPDATE: Navajo Generating Station is closing. Tribal leaders, utilities, the federal government and energy companies must address injustices of the past to pave the way to a clean energy future for the Navajo. Find out how here!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Investing Ethically: or Putting Our Money Where Our Blog Is.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sold off its entire $187 million stake in oil giant BP, as well as its entire $824 million holding in ExxonMobil. BP posted a record $6.5 billion annual loss in February while ExxonMobil is under investigation about whether it lied in the past to investors about the threat of climate change.”

"Climate change poses the greatest threat to health in the 21st century, according to doctors, and to avoid catastrophic impacts, most known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground. If the world’s governments succeed as promised and halt global warming, those reserves could become worthless, and divestment campaigners argue there are both financial and moral reasons for divestment." - The Guardian reporter Damian Carrington.

At the end of 20 years of marriage, I was awarded half of our 401K. After sending the investment company our divorce agreement, I received letters urging me to make a decision on what to do with my share: keep the 401K with the current investment company or change companies. I procrastinated because, to be honest, I didn’t like either of those choices – especially after so many lost their retirement money when Wall Street made risky investments. I was grateful to have the money, but I didn’t care for how it had been earned. Part of me wanted to take the money out and pay off the rest of the mortgage on our modest house. After faithfully paying $860 a month for twenty years, I still had 15 years to go. I didn’t want the bank to get another dime of my money! But Dan crunched the numbers, and discovered that the penalty and taxes for taking the money out early was equivalent to the interest I would pay in the remaining 15 years of the mortgage – assuming the 401K wouldn’t make any additional money!

It was either keep the 401k for another five years or suffer a huge loss. We half-heartedly accepted the help of a persistent financial adviser. He did the usual assessment of our investment objectives and how much risk we were comfortable with. I shuffled uneasily in my seat as he explained our moderate risk growth profile, which means 40-50% income investment (safe investments like bonds that return slightly above the rate of inflation, but aren't likely to lose value), roughly 30% long-term growth (blue chip stocks), and about 10-20% short-term growth investments (high yield, somewhat high risk, stocks).

About a week later, our adviser called, wanting to just “swing by” to drop off the prospectus he had worked out. I sat there in agony as we read over the list of companies that were the antithesis of everything we believed in: all the big pharma companies, all the big box companies, and every big energy company, including Exxon. There was no way I was going to invest in Exxon! We don’t even drive a car in an effort not to contribute to climate change! Apparently these big companies are included in most prospectuses because you could count on them to make big profits – never mind how unethically they did that.

I explained to our poor adviser that it was less important that the fund grow than it was for us to invest in something we believe in. Were there possibly any “green” or “sustainable” companies we could invest in?

A few days later he dropped off the prospectuses of some “sustainable funds”. Flipping through their holdings, we saw they also included big pharma and even GE! GE represents everything we were fighting against. They use coal and water to power their plants, they got billions of dollars in subsidies and hid their profits overseas. They were on the list because they manufacture wind turbines in addition to their many not-so-green products.

Frustrated, I blurted out that if I had my way, I wouldn’t be investing in a broken system that rewarded CEOs with million dollar bonuses for firing and exploiting workers. Dan replied, “Unfortunately, that’s how capitalism works – by exploiting other people.” I exclaimed, “Then I don’t want to be in this system!” It was not going to be easy to invest ethically in a process where the actual system itself is the problem.

We tried another angle. What about socially responsible companies? Our persevering adviser really took on the challenge. He dug up two “socially responsible funds” for us to check out. One of them came highly recommended by his firm. But Dan looked it over and found many of the same companies we objected to in the growth funds. It appeared that the company’s priorities had shifted to making more money for its investors. The other company’s definition of “socially responsible” was Christian fundamentalist values. In other words, they would not invest in alcohol, tobacco, guns or companies with health plans that included birth control. Argh!

Back to the drawing board. Our adviser asked if we had any companies in mind. He suggested that we could put together our own portfolio including government bonds and individual companies of our choosing. Our adviser was really starting to get into it. He even enlisted the help of his assistant.

He e-mailed us the prospectus on a water fund. After reading it, we couldn’t figure out why he had chosen it. Just because it was a water fund, didn’t mean it was necessarily sustainable. We certainly didn’t want to invest in a company that would exploit Native Americans or destroy their aquifers to get to it. He read their mission over the phone, “We have a team of analysts dedicated to environmental, social and corporate-governance research, including environmental technology, science, policy and issues of sustainability. In addition, our unique Grassroots Research platform combines an in-house staff, over 300 independent researchers and more than 50,000 industry contacts to gather on-the-ground market intelligence.” We were sold. We had 20% of our portfolio right there.

He looked up renewable energy companies on Wikipedia and recommended three solar companies. Bingo!

With our adviser on the phone, me on my computer and Dan on his, we googled social justice companies and brainstormed companies that treated their employees well. Dan looked up their reputation for being socially responsible and sustainable and shared his expertise on the big computer companies. Our adviser made sure they were public companies, and let us know how they were doing in the market. (We were disappointed to find that Trader Joes and Ben and Jerry’s weren’t publicly traded and that most B Corp funds aren’t rated high enough to be sold by our adviser.) In addition to recommending companies that reflected our principles, it was our financial adviser’s responsibility to make sure the companies were solid and had growth potential. Together, we cranked out the rest of our portfolio in no time at all.

What we ended up with was a mix of "income securities" - mostly government and some private bond funds. The rest is "growth securities:" the water investment mutual fund and a portfolio of stocks we chose ourselves including two solar companies and companies that treat their employees well. We’re still not entirely comfortable with our role in securities markets that are the engine that drives so much inequality and environmental destruction worldwide. But we did do our best to make sure that our investment will do as much good as possible in our current economic system. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Restoring Tucson's Rivers video

In 2013, Tucson's own Watershed Management Group launched a 50 Year Program to restore the heritage of year-round, free flowing rivers in southern Arizona.
Up until about the 1950s much of the Santa Cruz River and its tributary streams flowed year-round, allowing cities in Southern Arizona to grow and flourish. Now our rivers, creeks, and springs only flow after heavy rains and for short periods of time. Join us in forging a new path for Arizona’s water future.