Oil Industry Injustice

These days, two things keep me up at night, and probably will continue to do so for a long time to come. The first is climate change. It seems petty to say, but it is not about me. If I let my thoughts spin out, I am terrified for my children and the world they will have to live in. It is usually as straightforward as that. The second is the simply outrageous injustice of the problem. As the rules of the game stand, there is, for all intents and purposes, nothing we can do about it. The linkages between corporate power, government stability and capacity, and individual or local disfranchisement are so complete that it really is hard to believe that we often call ourselves a “democracy”.

Sure, it is a lot worse a lot of other places. In the grand scheme, to live in Canada or the United States is to be relatively fortunate in terms of the standard liberal bag of rights-I can say what I want (mostly), believe what I want (largely), and do what I want (sort of). But “relatively” fortunate is not something I think we should accept. The person with chains around only one ankle is “relatively” fortunate compared to he or she who has two, but that does not mean that all is well in one-chain land.

I bring all this up because it seems to me that what is really at issue is not merely getting people to follow the rules of the game. That would help, of course, but the problem is bigger than that-it is about changing the rules.

Let’s think about this in terms of the things that keep me up at night, pinning the conversation to one of the most significant contributors to the climate change problem and its injustices: the international oil industry.

Presumably, if you are reading this, you are already skeptical of the petroleum complex’s self-presentation as green, community-oriented, wealth distributors. They are none of these things. Their crimes are legion. These same corporations have said nothing as Saudi Arabia’s bloated monarchy has turned deaf ears on the plight of their own Shia minority-who happen to live in parts of the country rich in oil. Texaco-Chevron gave Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator of Spain for thirty years, oil on credit to get his murderous armies across the Strait of Gibraltar-and when Franklin Roosevelt protested the violation of the American embargo on Spain, the company funneled millions more dollars through fascist Italy. Shell lent their helicopters to the Nigerian military to riddle government opposition with bullets. And now the majors (the largest oil companies) have been rewarded for their impatient wait with bargain-basement oil contracts in what is left of what was once Iraq.

This is the contemporary oil industry. Nothing more, nothing less. And if we are to limit the ravages of climate change, we have little choice but to confront it. That means redefining what democracy is, or at least what the current rules describe it to be. Both the federal and BC provincial governments are entirely complicit with the oil industry, and the common efforts to open up the Sacred Headwaters to Shell against all legal and moral obligations, to stuff Enbridge’s Gateway pipeline down our collective throats, to continue the silent but vast flow of subsidies to oil and gas exploration in the province’s north. None of which is to even mention their gutless-ness in the face of looming possibility of the end of the tanker moratorium on the BC coast. The carbon tax, however you feel about it, is nothing in the face of all this.

In other words, it is time someone-in this case both government and the corporations themselves-was called to account, in Alberta, in BC, and elsewhere. Neither Campbell, Harper, nor Shell are dealing in some petty commodity we can safely look past-they are trading on, and ignoring, the future of the planet, and of any semblance of popular participation we might have in what it will look like a century from now.

Which is to say that the efforts of Dogwood, and many other groups in BC, Canada, and around the world, are both environmental and social justice-democracy efforts, all of which can usefully dig in at this intersection of corporate power, environmental destruction, and resulting political economic impunity. There are lots of places to begin. Frustration is tempting, but it is not the best one. Rage is a lot better, of course, but on its own it’s not enough. I am far from the first one to suggest it, but speaking up is a pretty good place to start. Like speaking up in support of the tanker moratorium, about getting Shell and Enbridge out of communities and a province where they are not wanted. If nothing else, these campaigns are part of a much longer-term effort to retake control of where we live, locally and regionally. Stopping the oil industry’s predations would be worth something even if it were only the control issue that was at stake. And it would be enough to keep me up at night, too. Celebrating.

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