Not just the climate

There’s a lot to be said about the harm that climate change is doing and will do in the future, both to ecosystems and to humanity, but the current system would be horrible, dangerous, and inhumane even without the destabilization of our climate. Case in point:

A rupture in Petroperu’s 40-year-old pipeline spilled 1,000 barrels of oil in Mayuriaga on 3 February, nine days after a leak in the same duct poured 2,000 barrels near eight other indigenous communities in the same Amazonian region.

This is a bit out of date, but I just came across it, so it’s news to me. It is yet another example of how the notion of “responsible fossil fuel use” is absurd. There has never been responsible fossil fuel use. From spills, to mistreatment of workers, to mine runoff, to atmospheric pollution, there is no reason to think that any corporation is capable of handling fossil fuels without causing massive environmental and human damage in the process. It may be hypothetically possible, but it has never been done, and there’s no reason to think it ever will be done in the future.

And the governments of the world have been no better. They have consistently failed in their duty to act in the interest of their citizens, and to protect those living within their borders. It’s not surprising that people have taken action to protect themselves:

The Wampis community of Mayuriaga seized a grounded military helicopter late on Sunday, holding crew members and several officials to press for inclusion in the emergency response plan, said Germán Velásquez, the president of state-owned energy company Petroperu.

It looks like nobody was harmed, other than those whose home has been poisoned, and that’s good. Violence is not going to get us the real change that we need. This does underscore a point that I feel a lot of conservatives in the U.S. miss, though. If someone tries to kill you, you have the right to use violence to defend yourself. In most of this country, you currently have that right even if you just think they’re going to try to harm you. Strangely, though, for all the talk of corporate personhood, if a corporation is in the process of poisoning your food, water and air, you don’t have the right to attack them to try to make them stop. It doesn’t matter if they made the decision not to repair or maintain their pipelines or holding tanks, even knowing that spills would result. It doesn’t matter that we’re talking about a scale of negligence that borders on intent to cause harm. The only legal recourse for a private citizen is a very, very slow and discouraging process of lawsuits and settlements.

And government agencies, of course – the same government agencies conservatives want to dismantle. I wonder – do they think we should take up arms against the local factory or oil company if it poisons us? I somehow doubt they would see themselves as being on the side of the Wampis community that seized the helicopter and crew…

The dangers of our current industrial and energy systems go beyond climate change (though that’s the most dangerous part), and the injustices of our current political and justice systems – across the world – go far beyond the social and political. Whether it’s an oil spill on tribal lands in Peru, or an bitumen spill in an American suburb, or harassment and murder of black and brown people by police, or the poisoning of water in Michigan, or West Virginia – we need change. We need change at every level, and we need to approach it as members of a global community with shared problems.


  1. Menyambal says

    Corporate personhood pretty much fulfils the bit in Revelations about the image of the beast. A corporation is soulless, heartless, conscienceless and greedy, and now it lives.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You’re attacking a strawman conservative. Anyone competent in law should be able to tell you the clear difference: (extra-judicial) fustified self defense cases require immediacy of threat of harm. The general idea is that without immediacy, there’s time to take the dispute to the proper venue: a government court, and that means that any use of violence to resolve the dispute is illegal. The threat posed by fossil fuel companies lacks the immediacy requirement. There is time to take the dispute to a court. For example, if you have irrefutable proof that someone is going to try to poison your food one month from now, that knowledge legally justifies absolutely zero violence towards that person – it lacks the immediacy requirement.

    Further, I recognize that you wrote an explicit disclaimer against violence. However, you then cited – and endorsed – a particular incident that – at best – can be described as civil disobedience, where members of the Wampi community seized a helicopter. However, there is a fine line between nonviolent civil disobediance ala Martin Luther King Jr, which I totally support, vs eco-terrorism, which I generally condemn. From just your brief description, your Wampis example sounds closer to eco-terrorism. Are you a fan of other “eco-terrorist” groups, like ELF and ALF, and their friends, such as PETA, who fund them?

    What you say sounds suspiciously similar to the standard GreenPeace groupy: someone where their concern for the environment is overtaken by their anti-capitalism, anti-corporatism, and even pro-anarchist leanings. Whether that accurately describes you, I do not yet know. And this shouldn’t even be necessary, but to preemptively avoid potential strawman ad homs, I regularly identify as a Marxist.

  3. says

    @E.L. – I’m attacking conservative policies and rhetoric, and their implications. If someone intentionally poisons the water supply, they’re likely to be tried for terrorism. If a corporation does it, even if there were steps they chose not to take to avoid it, it’s “just an accident”, no matter how much damage is done.

    I believe that large corporations do no have sufficient oversight, and are not held accountable for their actions. They have demonstrated a remarkable willingness to disregard human life and wellbeing, as well as environmental damage, and have spent a lot of money around the world on influencing governments that mysteriously let them get away with a slap on the wrist.

    I think that needs to change. I think we need punishments that funnel all profits from the offender to repairing the damage done, in addition to jail sentences for those responsible for making the decisions. Corporations serve a useful purpose, and in that sense, they are a good thing, but when they become entities in their own right, and when they become unaccountable for their actions,

    For a simple example, I could get behind something that would have dissolved Union Carbide in the wake of the Bhopal disaster, and split its assets between severance for low-level employees (not the executives), and aid for the survivors of the disaster. Alternatively, maybe a percent of gross income paid in perpetuity to the disaster victims and their descendants.

    If that makes me “anti-corporation”, then I’m anti-corporation.

    As to whether this was “close to ecoterrorism”, that’s a meaningless designation. This was, in effect, a citizen’s arrest. The people in question had no law enforcement working for them – not in any meaningful sense, so they carried out an arrest themselves. The only reason someone like you can wave the “ecoterrorism” label in their direction is because they were not official government agents.

    If someone from another country came in and poisoned water in the U.S., would it be terrorism or kidnapping for us to arrest representatives of that group and hold them pending investigation if they presented a flight risk?

    This is what I’m talking about when I refer to conservative rhetoric on the EPA – the position of most prominent conservative politicians seems to be that the EPA should be done away with, and they have no plans for replacing it. In that scenario, there would be little to no recourse for people whose land or water is poisoned by industrial runoff. There are virtually no individuals with the resources for a prolonged legal battle with a medium to large corporation, and even with the current setup, justice is hard to come by. Do away with the government agency responsible for protecting us from the excesses of corporations that have shown themselves to be willing to poison people if it means cutting costs, and you’re left with a scenario in which things like the actions this tribe took are the only way forward.

    And yes – I did write an explicit disclaimer against violence, and that’s the fucking difference. The only harm done here was to the people who seized the helicopter, by those represented by the helicopter’s crew.

    The actions of the fossil fuel industry have killed and sickened many people, and will result in the deaths of millions in the next century or so, barring an unprecedented level of action. The current legal system will allow the individuals responsible for decades of funding denial and misinformation campaigns to get away with it, just as no tobacco executives went to jail for the harm they did (unless I’ve missed something).

    I don’t pretend to know your motives, but it seems like you’re attempting to shift the conversation away from holding corporate entities and executives responsible for their crimes, and onto a topic that you yourself said wasn’t relevant. The Wampis community did not commit any acts of terrorism, and nobody here voiced support for terrorism.

    And for all your whining about “straw conservatives” at the beginning of your comment, it sure seems like you decided to make your own “straw ecoterrorist” construct to attack.

  4. says

    @E.L. You seem to be fond of finding some tangential justification for attacking people in conversation, in an apparent effort to put them on the defensive. I hope it’s just coincidence that you’ve done that a couple times here, and you’re not going to make a habit out of it, because it would get really old, really fast.

  5. Dunc says

    The threat posed by fossil fuel companies lacks the immediacy requirement.

    Does it though? This is not like someone planning to “poison your food one month from now”… It’s more of a “sword of Damocles” type situation – the threat is real and immediate, but uncertain. The pipeline could rupture at any moment, but there is no way to predict exactly when (or even if) it actually will. If I were to strap a bomb to you that’s wired to a random number generator, I don’t think the argument that it’s not really an immediate threat would stand up in court.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *