With the Cancun UN climate conference only weeks away now, the brilliant Avi Lewis travels to Bolivia to explore the country’s climate crusade from the inside on this edition of Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines.
The climate crisis in Bolivia is not a headline or an abstraction – it is playing out in people’s lives in real time. Melting glaciers are threatening the water supply of the country’s two biggest cities. Increasing droughts and floods are playing havoc with agriculture. So it is no surprise that in climate negotiations, Bolivia is emerging as a leader in the global south – advancing both radical solutions and analysis that make rich countries distinctly nervous.
This article is Part 3 of a 3 part collection of essays by University of Texas at Austin Professor Robert Jensen on important issues that should be highlighted during this year’s US mid-term election campaigns.
Will America’s energy crisis be solved by more aggressive pursuit of fossil fuels or by more vigorous development of renewables?
In this campaign season, there are politicians on all sides. Chants of “drill, baby, drill” ring out, while others sing the praises of wind and solar, and some argue we must try everything.
Unfortunately, politicians don’t seem willing to face a more difficult reality: There is no solution, if by “solution” we mean producing enough energy to maintain our current levels of consumption indefinitely.
To deal with the energy crisis we must deal with a consumption crisis, but politicians are reluctant to run a campaign based on a call for “less” — the American Dream, after all, is always “more.” But, whether the public and politicians like it or not, our future is about learning to live with less, starting with a lot less energy.
In the United States, we have been living with the abundance produced by an industrial economy, all made possible by the concentrated energy of fossil fuels. We tell ourselves this is the product of our hard work, but our life of plenty was made possible by the incredible energy stored in coal, oil, and natural gas. How long can that continue?
For unlucky residents of the Gulf States, the BP oil-spill disaster, coming up on 100 days, could take another turn for the worst if one of the storms churning up tropical waters in the Atlantic Ocean blossoms into a full-blown hurricane and heads into the Gulf of Mexico.
For several already marginalized Native tribes living on the Louisiana Coast – many of them fishermen and shrimpers – a hurricane crashing through the oil-polluted Gulf now could destroy a way of life that has survived for centuries.
Already, the tribal land among the coastal bayous is disappearing faster than anywhere on the planet, the victim of unbridled oil exploration and dam building projects of the Army Corps of Engineers dating back to the 1930s.
“For us it’s more like a hundred years of oil disasters than a hundred days,” said Chief Charles Verdin of the Pointe au Chien tribe. “And really when you look at it … it’s business as usual. The tribes being ignored, forgotten, overlooked, and forced from their land.”
Scientists and environmentalists across the United States and around the globe have their fingers crossed that BP’s claim to have finally capped its runaway well, after three months, is true, and that the damage of history’s worst environmental disaster can now be assessed in finite terms.
Yet, it will take years, if not decades, to truly comprehend the extent of the devastation: the dead and damaged wildlife, the soiled beaches and marshes, and the huge swaths of the sea that may become dead zones, so polluted that fish and other animals can’t survive there.
Even as BP was announcing its alleged capping success, many more wounded animals were being spotted and oil was still splashing on shorelines across the Gulf. Just recently, oil surged into one of the largest sea-bird nesting areas along Louisiana’s coast near Raccoon Island.
Three hundred to four hundred more pelicans were spotted with oil, as well as hundreds of terns. Scientists say these visible blotches of oil mean death for the sea birds.
To date, it’s estimated that over 3,000 birds have been killed, 59 dolphins, at least one sperm whale, and more than 460 turtles. Indeed, perhaps the species most threatened by the tens of millions of gallons of oil and toxic dispersants is the giant prehistoric sea turtle.
Dr Christopher A. Pincetich, a marine biologist and toxicologist for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, is convinced that the BP oil spill has destroyed a “generation” of turtles.
“We’re working as fast as we can on several fronts,” Dr. Pincetich said in an interview from New Orleans. “Most urgent right now is the immediate rescue of more of the endangered sea turtles that are in the Gulf oil spill right now.”
On June 17, after watching BP’s oil blowout pollute the Gulf of Mexico for nearly two months, environmental campaigner and fourth-generation Texas shrimp boat captain, Diane Wilson, had had more than enough.
So Wilson seized the only opportunity she may ever have to confront BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, eye to eye, about his “criminal activities” as top dog at the oil giant.
That day, Hayward happened to be giving testimony before the Senate Energy Committee hearings. Wilson, who works with CodePink now, had been on the road and was heading home to Seadrift, Texas, when she heard Hayward would be testifying at the Capitol.
“I was coming back to Texas and I found out the CEO of BP was going to be in D.C,” said Wilson, in a telephone interview. “I felt compelled to come. I had to see Hayward. I had to. And I did.”
But Wilson was not merely planning to be a passive observer, sitting in awe in one of the great deliberative bodies of U.S. democracy.
“I got in and I snuck in some black paint,” she said, “and I sat there and waited ‘til he started testifying and then I smeared that paint all over myself, poured it on my hands, and I stood up and told him he should be jailed. He should be jailed, I told him.”
“BP is a criminal company that has ignored safety regulations at the health of our oceans and even its own workers,” Wilson called out to Hayward and the members of the committee,” before she was pounced on by security and hustled out of the hearing room.
Recent talk surrounding BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to corporate negligence has drawn light on the Exxon Valdez disaster and one which devastated one of India’s poorest regions with its effects still very much raw and constantly ignored by the US media. Obama’s anti-BP rhetoric has spurred many of those affected by this disaster to point out Western double standards.
Twenty five years after the world’s biggest industrial disaster, Union Carbide’s old pesticide factory remains untouched, haunting the crowded city of Bhopal, a constant reminder of the region’s darkest night.
On the night of 3 December 1984 the lethal gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) alongside other noxious fumes, engulfed the city of Bhopal and killed thousands. It is thought that the disaster has claimed 25,000 lives thus far, and adversely affected over 500,00. Gross negligence by Union Carbide is widely viewed as the cause of the tragedy.
Earlier last week, after a quarter century of waiting and sloppy, almost reluctant court action, lamentable sentences were passed down to seven Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) officials. Sentences of two years were administered to some of those presiding over the corporation when the tragedy occurred; a small group of incredibly wealthy Indian men, all in their 70’s, one of whom is a billionaire, and none of whom are expected to serve their sentences. In addition to the sentencing, each of the seven men were fined a paltry £1400, an amount which would barely pays for the yearly healthcare of one of the victims, let alone serves as meaningful punishment for this appalling crime.
These convictions are so far the only to have materialised in a case that was opened the day after the tragedy in 1984. Those ultimately responsible for the tragedy, namely the corporation’s CEO and equally negligent Western officials, remain unpunished.
Survivors and campaigners have been outraged, calling last week’s decision an ‘insult’. However, as we are about to see, this is only the most recent of a long history of insults.
NOVA SCOTIA—”BP has done ruined all those people’s lives down there,” said my friend Bill, a Nova Scotia lobsterman in his seventies, as we talked about the fate of Louisiana fishermen the other day. Many are Cajuns, descended from French Acadian settlers who once lived along this very coast, prior to their expulsion by the British in the 1750s.
Having worked on the sea all his life, Bill said sadly: “We ain’t seen nothing yet. I don’t care how you look at it, that oil is coming up here.” Remarking on swordfish and tuna, which winter and spawn in the Gulf but are caught by Canadian fishermen in the summer, he noted that “fish swim, but that oil will kill every fish egg it touches.”
Although the focus of the environmental impacts of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been primarily on the devastation of the coastal wildlife, marshes, and beaches of the Gulf Coast, the impacts will be felt all along the Atlantic coast, as well. With the spill, now in its third month, spewing oil into the ocean at the rate of at least 60,000 barrels a day, it’s clear BP CEO Tony Hayward’s claim that the environmental impact would be “very, very modest” could not be farther from the truth.
Ever since Bono declared his intention to “bring some sex appeal to the idea of wanting to change
the world” on the front pages of Vanity Fair, I’ve been suspicious of celebrity endorsements of struggles for social justice. James Cameron, the director of the brilliant Avatar, is an exception, however. In this interview on the Riz Khan show, Cameron speaks about his recent visit to Brazil and the resistance of local communities to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, which threatens the destruction of the homeland of tens of thousands of people. In eminently sensible and respectful terms, he discusses his support for their struggle and his reaction to the way indigenous activists around the world have embraced the motif of the Navi struggle against corporate imperialism so masterfully depicted in Avatar. What is more, it seems his initial reluctance to acknowledge the parallels between the Navi and the Palestinian struggle is waning too.
Below the fold, you can find another recent IPS interview with Cameron where he further discusses the relationship between Avatar and and its appropriation by indigenous activists. (For previous PULSE posts on Avatar see the review by Kim Bizzari and Max Ajl’s response to Slavoj Zizek.)