30 June 2010

Environmental Racism & Oil

The BP Oil deep water Rupture/Spill in the Gulf of Mexico has dominated the news media for the past two months - rightfully so... this is an environmental catastrophe that will affect us all for years to come. It's almost too much... thinking about the thousands of barrels of oil gushing out of the ocean... and the ridiculous mess BP has made of their supposed clean-up efforts. It is bewildering to see how much power multi-national oil companies have... to see how difficult it is to hold them accountable.

Democracy Now has done an amazing job as usual to get at the heart of the issue - highlighting the communities who are most affected by this oil spill and spreading awareness about the class and race dynamics at work. The June 7th show on how the oil spill is affecting indigenous communities in Louisiana broke down the similarities between this oil spill and the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska over 22 years ago. The interviewees critiqued the corporate control of resources/land and the poor management and disastrous attempts at clean up. 

A more recent show - June 16th - engaged a roundtable of guests - (Monique Harden, New Orleans attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human RightsAmory Lovins, co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado; Michael Brune, executive director of The Sierra Club) - in order to discuss the BP Oil Spill and the future of green energy in the United States. Monique Harden raised important concerns about how often environmental injustice occurs in poor communities of color, with a focus on how African American communities in New Orleans & other communities in the gulf are affected by the oil spill, offshore drilling generally, and toxic production. The major discussion of the roundtable included ways we can work towards a future of green energy.

Meanwhile - across the Atlantic - in the Niger Delta - communities there have been dealing with oil spills, exploitation by multinational oil giants Shell & Chevron, human rights violations, and so much more... for decades.... Democracy Now has also covered these atrocities over the past ten years - check out their page of stories: "The True Cost of Oil" - and just last year, Shell paid out $15.5 million dollars in settlement rather than go to trial for human rights violations in the Niger Delta (The case was brought on behalf of ten plaintiffs who accused Shell of complicity in the 1995 executions of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others.)

Here is the entire show covering the settlement - June 9, 2009:

Also, for more info about the trial - and the documentary "Drilling and Killing: Chevron & Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship" - here is a link to the October 28, 2008 show.

The stories and environmental disasters in the Global South never get the attention they deserve - we know this and we know why. A recent article in The Observer - Guardian UK points out this very disturbing fact and discusses the Niger Delta's many environmental catastrophes - "Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US & Europe ignore it" - by John Vidal - published 30 May 2010.

The most recent news from the Niger Delta as reported in this article:
On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast. ...
With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution. "If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta."
This latest spill in the delta happened only two months ago - and it got little to no media attention... sadly this is the state of affairs - everyday for the communities living in the Niger Delta. And since this article, other news reports are surfacing -- as some journalists report on other oil exploitations happening around the world. (Check out the recent article about oil exploration - also published in The Observer, "Anger grows across the world at the real price of 'frontier' oil" on 20 June 2010.)

On May 28th 2010, Democracy Now covered the Chevron Annual Shareholders meeting - where five activists were arrested and barred entry from the meeting. They interviewed Emem Okon, an activist from Nigeria and the founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta, who explained why she came to the meeting in protest:
I came to tell Chevron that they have oppressed in the Niger Delta region with impunity for the past fifty years, poisoning our waters, devastating our environment, killing the fish we eat, burning poison gas through gas flares in the Niger Delta that has caused cancer, asthma, corroding our roofs. And they have not done anything to alleviate the sufferings of the people as a result of their activities. And what they did on Wednesday was a demonstration of the fact that they are not ready to change their mode of oppression in the Niger Delta region, and they are not ready to recognize and respect the human rights of the people, and they are not ready to change the inhumane way they treat the communities in which they oppress. I am surprised at the attention that the BP oil spill has attracted in the United States, and I expect that the condition in the Niger Delta should attract the same coverage and that the international community should impress it on Chevron and every other oil community to stop their inhuman activity and abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region. 
Emem Okon's description of the environmental injustice long happening in the Niger Delta resonates so clearly within the silences of neocolonial exploitation - still so prevalent in the Global South - all in the name of "progress" and capitalism. We must unearth these silences. 

And so as we raise awareness about what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico... as we think about how to create green energy for the future... as we keep ourselves in the know about cleanup efforts... as we agitate & organize to create change and hold BP accountable... LET US ALSO think about the Niger Delta and all the other communities in the Global South affected by environmental catastrophes and exploitation by multinational corporations who care more about money than people. Let us spread our knowledge and find out about what communities and grassroots organizations are doing to create change (ex. check out the Chevron Campaign led by Global Exchange). Let us all think seriously about a green future and ensure that people of color and communities most affected by climate change and environmental racism and injustice are leading this future.

1 comment:

Bandersnatchi said...

Nice one, S.
Haven't read all your blog posts, but I wrote about Nigeria and the oil companies pollution last year:

specifically: the gas-flaring.

Gonna add you to my blogroll,