Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 19, 2000
The high human cost of cheap gasoline
Confrontations between members of the public and guardians of the establishment have become regular features of TV news. Demonstrators and police faced each other in Windsor, Ont., during the OAS meetings.
Early in June a grandmother was unceremoniously lifted into a paddy wagon for protesting the planned clear-cutting of an old growth forest in B.C. Calgary was the scene recently where committed environmentalists squared off against representatives of the global oil industry.
Albertans might wonder: Why bite the hand that feeds us?
The news reports don't always give us the context that gives rise to these public protests. We are left with the impression that the police are protecting law and order against the outrageous demands of the lunatic fringe.
Law-abiding citizens might fear that we are being invaded by eco-terrorists and environmental utopians who threaten our job security.
There is a Cree saying: "When all the trees have been cut down, and all the rivers poisoned and the air polluted, we will discover that money cannot be eaten." That is more or less what the Calgary protest was about.
The brother of martyred Ogoni leader, Ken Saro Wiwa, was in Calgary along with several representatives from various countries where oil plays a major part in the local economy.
In the oil rich Niger Delta where Saro Wiwa is from, life expectancy and per capita income are extremely low. The land, water and air is severely polluted and the local people don't benefit from Chevron, Shell and other oil transnationals.
On New Year's Eve 1999 the military government of Nigeria imposed a state of emergency as government troops fired on non-violent protestors. Twenty six citizens were killed, hundreds were wounded and scores of youth were incarcerated. Thousands of troops, two warships and helicopter gunships were deployed against the civilians.
Before the week ended some 200 Ijaws, the main ethnic group in the region, were pulled from their houses and shot as a means of intimidation. News of the atrocities got little coverage.
That same week wire stories reported optimistically about oil and gas exploration in the delta. Texaco found a gusher just off the coast but made no mention of trouble. Prospects for high earnings looked bright according to business reports, as long as production could be kept at a steady high.
With the low price of oil last year, transnationals engaged in cheap oil drilling as fast as possible without regard for the local consequences.
The Niger Delta oil was one of the cheapest oils to exploit because of the complicity of Abubakar's military regime to crack down on local resisters.
While Nigerian soldiers were brutalizing their own people some 15,000 Nigerian troops were in Sierra Leone battling it out with the RUF for control of the diamond fields.
In the meantime Canada's Talisman had made its own deal with the military regime of Sudan. Mobil was complicit in environmental and human rights abuses arising from its operations in dictatorial Indonesia. Other oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait remain notoriously undemocratic.
Canada and the U.S. are the largest per capita energy consumers. We want our price at the pump cheap. We seldom realize what price is paid in human lives that allows us to fool around in our recreational vehicles.
The protestors in Calgary were there to help make us aware. The emphasis in the news will be on the inevitable clashes.
The high cost of gas will be blamed on inscrutable market forces. The police will have restored order and we will all feel safe again.
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