Thursday, June 10, 2010

Herbert: Disaster in the Amazon, Global subsidies to dirty energy

Hi, all. There's a show on KCET tonight at 8 PM called 'Things that
aren't here Anymore, anchored by Pat Morrison. My club, the Ash
Grove, is one of the features. I was promised a news release
and got their email saying it was attached. Unforfunately, nothing
was attached! I'd have included it instead of the Global subsidies
article. If I get the actual release I may send it in a separate email.
Also, it's on today at 2 pm. Hope you like it. Hope I do, too.

Disaster in the Amazon

By Bob Herbert
NY Times Op-Ed: June 5, 2010

BP's calamitous behavior in the Gulf of Mexico is the big oil story of the
moment. But for many years, indigenous people from a formerly pristine
region of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador have been trying to get relief
from an American company, Texaco (which later merged with Chevron), for what
has been described as the largest oil-related environmental catastrophe

"As horrible as the gulf spill has been, what happened in the Amazon was
worse," said Jonathan Abady, a New York lawyer who is part of the legal team
that is suing Chevron on behalf of the rainforest inhabitants.

It has been a long and ugly legal fight and the outcome is uncertain. But
what has happened in the rainforest is heartbreaking, although it has not
gotten nearly the coverage that the BP spill has.

What's not in dispute is that Texaco operated more than 300 oil wells for
the better part of three decades in a vast swath of Ecuador's northern
Amazon region, just south of the border with Colombia. Much of that area has
been horribly polluted. The lives and culture of the local inhabitants, who
fished in the intricate waterways and cultivated the land as their ancestors
had done for generations, have been upended in ways that have led to
widespread misery.

Texaco came barreling into this delicate ancient landscape in the early
1960s with all the subtlety and grace of an invading army. And when it left
in 1992, it left behind, according to the lawsuit, widespread toxic
contamination that devastated the livelihoods and traditions of the local
people, and took a severe toll on their physical well-being.

A brief filed by the plaintiffs said: "It deliberately dumped many billions
of gallons of waste byproduct from oil drilling directly into the rivers and
streams of the rainforest covering an area the size of Rhode Island. It
gouged more than 900 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor - pits which
to this day leach toxic waste into soils and groundwater. It burned hundreds
of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere,
poisoning the air and creating 'black rain' which inundated the area during
tropical thunderstorms."

The quest for oil is, by its nature, colossally destructive. And the giant
oil companies, when left to their own devices, will treat even the most
magnificent of nature's wonders like a sewer. But the riches to be made are
so vastly corrupting that governments refuse to impose the kinds of rigid
oversight and safeguards that would mitigate the damage to the environment
and its human and animal inhabitants.

Pick your venue. The families whose lives and culture are dependent upon the
intricate web of waterways along the Gulf Coast of the United States are in
a fix similar to that of the indigenous people zapped by nonstop oil spills
and the oil-related pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Each group is
fearful about its future. Both have been treated contemptuously.

The oil companies don't care. Shell can't wait to begin drilling in the
Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska, an area that would pose
monumental problems for anyone trying to deal with a catastrophic spill. The
companies pretend that the spills won't happen. They always say that their
drilling operations are safe. They said that before drilling off Santa
Barbara, and in the rainforest in Ecuador, and in the Gulf of Mexico, and
everywhere else they drill.

Their assurances mean nothing.

President Obama has suspended Shell's Arctic drilling permits and has
temporarily halted the so-called Arctic oil rush. What we've learned from
the BP debacle in the gulf, and from the rainforest, and so many other
places, is just how reckless and inept the oil companies can be when it
comes to safeguarding life, limb and the environment.

They're dangerous. They need the most stringent kind of oversight, and swift
and severe sanctions for serious wrongdoing. At the same time, we need to be
searching with a much, much greater sense of urgency for viable energy
alternatives. Treating the Amazon and the gulf and the Arctic as if they
were nothing more than toxic waste sites is an affront to the planet and all
life-forms that inhabit it.

Chevron doesn't believe it should be called to account for any of the sins
Texaco may have committed in the Amazon. A spokesman told me that the
allegations of environmental damage were wildly overstated and that even if
Texaco had caused some pollution, it had cleaned it up and reached an
agreement with the Ecuadorian government that precluded further liability.

The indigenous residents may be suffering (they're in much worse shape than
the people on the gulf coast) but the Chevron-Texaco crowd feels real good
about itself. The big money was made, and the trash was left behind.



IEA stunner: Global subsidies to dirty energy top $550 billion a year

by David Roberts
The Grist: 7 Jun 2010

File this one under "news that ought to be the top headline across the world
but will likely be ignored."

An early draft of a comprehensive new study from the International Energy
Agency reveals that total global subsidies to dirty fossil-fuel energy
amount to $550 billion a year -- about 75 percent more than previously

The Financial Times got a peak at the draft and covers it today, soliciting
this absolutely fabulous quote from chief IEA economist Faith Birol: "I see
fossil fuel subsidies as the appendicitis of the global energy system, which
needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future." I'm
stealing that one.

Not only would removing these subsidies move us closer to the "free market"
conservatives are fond of pretending we already have, it would immediately
reduce energy use and carbon pollution:

The IEA estimates that energy consumption could be reduced by 850m tonnes
equivalent of oil -- or the combined current consumption of Japan, South
Korea, Australia, and New Zealand -- if the subsidies are phased out between
now and 2020. The consumption cut would save the equivalent of the current
carbon dioxide emissions of Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, and Spain.
Given the dim prospects of a serious cap on carbon, it seems to me that in
the wake of the oil spill greens ought to be putting way more emphasis on
removing these subsidies. Obama signed the statement at the G20 pledging to
reduce them and reiterated that sentiment in his speech last week. It would
be a crucial first step in unwinding the century-plus worth of advantages
the fossil-fuel industry has accrued over its clean competitors.

Oil companies battle the removal of these subsidies by calling them "new
taxes." But oil companies aren't very popular right now. When will there
ever be a better time?

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For more info on Earth Action
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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on
the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of
compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in
this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst,
it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and
places (and there are so many) where people have behaved magnificently,
this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending
this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act,
in however small a way, we don¹t have to wait for some grand utopian
future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now
as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad
around us, is itself a marvelous victory." ---Howard Zinn


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