When the facts change, I
change my mind—what do you do, sir?
(John Maynard Keynes)
A perpetual motion machine for sale
Snake oil salesmen
A number of years ago I was
at a global climate change conference in Washington, D.C. One day was
devoted to visiting the offices of various senators and
representatives. I ran into a cigarette lobbyist, a former
congressman from North Carolina, who was visiting the representative
from his old district who was a personal friend. We had a pleasant
chat before he was ushered into the office of his friend. While we
chatted, I wondered what he might have said if I'd told him he was
working for a criminal enterprise. Needless to say, back then, I
didn't. Probably today I would have.
The fossil fuel industry has
run a similar campaign to what the cigarette manufacturers once did.
It has worked for a very long time. It's about denial, deception and
a belief that the public in general is easily manipulated and by in
large not well informed.
The sad truth is that most
evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or
Five years ago this month
the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster began in the Gulf sixty miles off
the coast of Louisiana. Five years later the region is still
suffering the consequences of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
In the late 1960s the Texaco
Petroleum Company got the concession to search for oil in a remote
region of Ecuador. Eventually some 16 billion gallons of toxic waste
were dumped in one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world,
covering approximately 1,500 square miles, about the size of the
state of Delaware.
I first wrote about the
Ecuadorian oil field called Ispingo-Tiputino-Tamboccocha back in 2007
and again in 2012, see Los Afectados. As well, I had lived in Ecuador
in the early 1970s. It is now an old story but still a new story and
one that is ongoing.
A major difference, however,
is that some forty years later the size of Los Afectados (The
Affected Ones) has grown well beyond Ispingo-Tiputino-Tamboccocha,
the country of Ecuador and the continent of Latin America.
On March 4, 2014 the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York said that the
$9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment was—regardless of its merit--the
product of fraud, racketeering, false testimony and bribery
instigated by the plaintiff and its lead attorney, Steven Donziger,
with the defendant being Chevron Corp. The judge stated that Chevron
did not have to pay anything. It was “unenforceable.”
Some people have referred to
this case, which has been going on for some twenty years, as
“never-ending litigation,” even though Chevron has some very deep
pockets with considerable political influence. According to an
analyst with OilPrice.com, Chevron in 2013 in the fourth quarter
alone made $4.9 billion.
As of April 2015 the
plaintiff expects the case to come before the Canadian Supreme Court.
A Chevron subsidiary is developing the Alberta tar sands. Chevron
also has assets in Argentina and Brazil, which Donziger has indicated
he will go after.
The way the world is
Lost in this endless
litigation, political maneuvering and money exchanging hands, the
fact is that no one is disputing that a large portion of the Amazon
region in Ecuador has suffered serious environmental damage along
with crops, soil and water having been contaminated and people
Above all else it is the
indigenous community voices in the region that may have been drowned
out. Will many of them die before there is any conclusion to this
case? Will their children have to contend with the same environmental
Was “evil” committed in
Ecuador forty years ago? I suppose it depends on your point of view.
Did the executives at Texaco know the difference between right and
wrong back then? Did the military junta who ran the country care
about what happened in the jungle?
Texaco was well aware of
“best” practices. They chose to ignore them. I doubt the generals
cared at all about indigenous people in the Amazon. They wanted the
money. Can Chevron be held responsible for what Texaco did? The
government of Ecuador “oversaw and certified” the successful
completion of remediation by Texaco. Texaco became a subsidiary of
Chevron in 2001. Chevron never drilled for oil in Ecuador. The case
of course will play out.
The only real option is
confrontation. Unless we afflict the comfortable everywhere, our
actual future at the very least will be a dreary 21st
century serfdom. We are Los Afectados across the globe and ultimately
we have only ourselves to blame.
A bit of levity regarding
the minds of climate change deniers, but the ultimate consequences are
likely to be anything but amusing. The question is as always how do
we go about changing those minds or ignoring them completely?
Liberty cannot be
preserved without general knowledge among the people.
(John Adams, second
president of the United States)
This video came out two or
three years ago, but it's telling on so many levels that it is worth
looking at more than once. The reality is that it may be even more
pertinent three years later. The mere “tweaking” of the system
will not change anything.
Wealth Inequality in
The U.S. is now the most
unequal of all Western nations and has a lot less social mobility
than Canada and Europe. In the 2014 mid-term elections the voter
turnout was as low as the1830 elections, where only white male
property owners could vote. It is in the short-term interest of the
plutocracy (read globally) to keep it this way.