What Will It Take For Us to Say “NO” to Corporate Environmental Disasters?

Do we really want corporations calling the shots, dictating government policy for the rest of us? Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that corporations are persons, entitled by the Constitution to buy elections and run the government. Every year, globally, Big Oil  gets $500 billion dollars a year of our (taxpayer’s) money, to encourage us to keep digging up old buried dead things, at great risk to people and the environment as evidenced most recently by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and Canada’s toxic tar sands, and of course climate change. Those same corporations make billions of dollars in profits from selling us all that oil, and use that money to muddy the public debate on climate change, about which there is scientific certainty – the only question that climate scientists debate is how fast the “tipping point” into catastrophic global climate instability is going to occur.

This week, we have the pictures out of Hungary as a mile-wide tidal wave of toxic sludge from an aluminium factory reaches the Danube river, one of Europe’s key waterways and the source of drinking water for many. At least four people were killed and three are missing, and over 120 have been hospitalized, after the unstoppable torrent inundated homes, swept cars off roads, burned people through their clothes and emptied 35 million cubic feet of toxic waste onto several nearby towns. USA Today reports:

Meanwhile, residents wearing pants coated with red mud cleared the muck away from their homes with snow shovels.

Kati Holtzer said the sludge smashed through the door of her home in Kolontar and trapped her and her 3-year-old boy in a churning flood of acrid waste.

She saved her son by placing him on a sofa that was floating in the muck. She called her husband, Balazs, who was working in Austria, to say goodbye.

“We’re going to die,” she told him, chest-deep in sludge.

We all need to take responsibility for demanding more stringent environmental standards, whether in Hungary or in the Alberta tar sands. There are other ways of doing business – let’s vote with our pocketbooks as well as our ballots, and demand change. We need jobs, but not at the cost of our future, and that of our children. As Franke James puts it, “Maybe the truth is without a healthy environment, there is no economy.”

This video shows how fast, and overwhelming, the toxic wave was as the reservoir holding in the waste burst. This was a farming community, but experts are saying there is little chance that farming can be resumed because of the permanent change in soil PH, as well as chemicals left behind by the deluge.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEMWh6EjJoY]

More links:

Hungary’s toxic red sludge reaches the Danube

Toxic Sludge Has “Surprisingly High” Levels of Arsenic, Mercury, According to Greenpeace

We All Subsidize Big Oil’s War on Our Grandchildren

Ending the Climate War

Move to Amend


Was Our Oil Dependency Manufactured?

Is anybody else getting tired of being told that we have to continue on the destructive oil-dependent path we’re currently on? There seems to be a large and vocal part of the population that believes because this is way we’ve been doing things for the last 100 years or so, give or take a few decades, that this is the only possible path to maintain our standard of living. The truth is, unless we take a sharp turn and start living and doing business sustainably, our standard of living is going to come crashing abruptly and painfully down. You just can’t live like there are 5 more planets like earth, like we currently do in North America, when in fact there is only this one.

If you aren’t convinced yet that oil is a dirty fuel after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, one that is getting filthier all the time due to our growing dependence on the Alberta tar sands, go to Wikipedia.org’s “list of oil spills” page. It is a reverse-chronological  list of oil spills that are currently happening, and that have happened since the early 1900s. Hundreds of thousands of tons of oil have been spilled in 2010 already (remember we’re only halfway through the year) by seven spills around the globe.

And yet, here we are in 2010, and governments around the world are using our taxpayer money to subsidize Big Oil and Gas to the tune of $500 billion a year!  As I wrote previously, we are all subsidizing Big Oil’s war on our grandchildren!

Yet, it turns out, it didn’t have to be this way. Henry Ford’s Model T came right from the factory, in 1911, with flex-fuel capacity; it could run on alcohol and gas. And in the 1930s and 1940s, Henry Ford developed a car body that was made from hemp fiber that also ran on hemp biodiesel. According to the YouTube video clip that features it, the resulting material was “lighter than steel, but could withstand ten times the impact without denting”. It seems clear that Henry Ford did encourage hemp cultivation to use as a fuel and as a manufacturing material. This was before hemp growing was banned in the U.S. in a strange twist in their war on drugs (hemp has no hallucinogenic properties although it is related to the marijuana plant).

Here are some videos that demonstrate how we could have gone down a different path to fueling and making our vehicles, and how, if we act quickly enough, we might still be able to change direction:

Ford’s first flex-fuel car, the 1911 Model T:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qDYoEupI28&feature=player_embedded]

Archival footage of Ford’s 1941 hemp car (the quality is quite poor, but it gives you the general idea):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rgDyEO_8cI]

More links:

B.C. Carbon Tax a Winner: The shift has been an economic boon for the province’s taxpayers and is projected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent

100 days of oil: Gulf life will never be the same again

Oil Pipeline Leak Pollutes Major Michigan River

Canadian Politicians Quietly Cancel 18-Month Investigation Into Tar Sands Pollution, Tear Up Draft Report

From the Montreal Gazette yesterday, this very alarming story:

Federal politicians from the government and opposition benches have mysteriously cancelled an 18-month investigation into oilsands pollution in water and opted to destroy draft copies of their final report, Canwest News Service has learned.

The aborted investigation comes as new questions are being raised about the Harper government’s decision to exempt a primary toxic pollutant found in oilsands tailings ponds from a regulatory agenda.

The government is in the process of categorizing industry-produced substances that could either be toxic or harmful, but has excluded naphthenic acid — a toxin from oilsands operations — from the list, and left it off another list of substances that companies are required to track and report.

The exclusion is “alarming” according to a letter sent Tuesday to Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, since the federal and Alberta governments have already identified it as a primary source of pollution in liquid waste dumped into ponds after companies extract oil from the region. (Click here to read the full story)

Apparently this happened very quietly on June 17, and it took until now for the media to alert Canadians to the proceedings of the federal Environment Committee.  If our federal government was doing its job, they would be more concerned about the health of Canadians living around the toxic tar sands than the health of the oil industry’s bank balance. And if Opposition politicians were doing their job, it wouldn’t be up to CanWest News Service to let Canadians know, after a three week delay, when their government has failed in its job.

Conservative MP James Bezan chairs the Environment Committee. He expressed his “disappointment”  that MPs were unable to agree on the final report, but asserted a curious belief that the committee’s aborted investigation “has still brought important information into the public domain through the hearings and testimony from expert witnesses that have resulted in several independent reports and commentary.”

According to Canada.com, Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia said

“I . . . have no intention of letting go this subject that should be part and parcel of the true national water strategy Canadians demand and deserve. The Conservative government has a lot of answering to do for its persistent lack of leadership on water in general and on oilsands and water in particular. The Conservative government’s record on water and oilsands has been one of constant denial and foot-dragging.”

The exclusion by the Harper government of naphthenic acids from the list of toxic substances, particularly in light of the fact the United States has recently moved forward with specific reporting requirements for the substance, is hard to understand. The Harper/Prentice mantra about taking action on the environment has, for several years now, been that “we’ll do what the Americans do“. Apparently, this is only true when the Americans aren’t doing anything. Matt Price from Environmental Defense wrote:

Naphthenic acids are one of the main pollutants responsible for the toxicity of tarsands tailings to aquatic organisms, and have been shown to harm liver, heart and brain function in mammals. Naphthenic acids are also very long-lived, taking decades to break down.”

Price also said in the letter that the federal and provincial governments are already allowing some of the toxins to leak into groundwater and surface water.

“It is therefore urgent that all tailings pollutants, and naphthenic acid in particular, be properly assessed and managed to minimize the risk to human and environmental health,” he wrote.

When did it become okay for the Canadian government to blatantly cater to industry and cease looking after the health and well-being of Canadians, and our natural resources?  If this is NOT okay with you, please take action. Write a letter (or an email, but a letter is more effective) or phone your MP, and then contact the MPs on the Environment Committee.

Click on the MP’s name to go to their contact info:

Chair, Environment and Sustainable Development Committee

James Bezan, Conservative MP for Selkirk-Interlake, Manitoba,

email:  Bezan.J@parl.gc.ca,

Vice-Chairs:

Bernard Bigras, Bloc Quebecois, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, Quebec

David McGuinty, Liberal, Ottawa-South, Ontario

Members of Environment and Sustainable Development Committee:

Francis Scarpaleggia, Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis, Quebec

Linda Duncan, NDP MP and Environment Critic, Edmonton-Strathcona, Alberta

Scott Armstrong, Conservative, Cumberland-Colchester-Mosquodoboit

Christian Ouellet, Bloc Quebecois, Brome-Missisquoi, Quebec

Blaine Calkins, Conservative, Wetaskiwin, Saskatchewan

Justin Trudeau, Liberal, Papineau, Quebec

Mark Warawa, Conservative, Langley, B.C.

Jeff Watson, Conservative, Essex, Ontario

Stephen Woodworth, Conservative, Kitchener Centre, Ontario

More links:

Contact info for all Members of Parliament

Satellite Photos of Alberta Tar Sands Tailing Ponds

Indigenous Environmental Network

“Bigger Issues Than Ducks” Alberta Environment Minister tells Middle East Audience

4 Billion Litres a Year: Tar Sands’ Toxic Leakage

American Veterans Raise Alarm re: Oil Dependence and National Security

From VoteVets.org, “The Voice of America’s 21st Century Patriots”, the message that it’s time to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, and switch to clean energy sources:

Over 11,000 Guardsmen have been sent to clean up an oil company’s mess, when they could be protecting America. Just another reason we need clean energy reform.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOWffhbEn60]

For more information, go to VoteVet.org.

Louisiana Congressman Melancon on BP Mess: “Everything I Know And Love Is At Risk”

While testifying at a subcommittee meeting on the Gulf oil catastrophe, Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon showed a candor and depth of genuine emotion rarely seen in today’s superficial, sound-bite dependent political climate.  He opened his brief statement by rattling off a list of disasters his constituents have endured and went on to chastise those engaged in political posturing:

“I’m sick of it,” Melancon said, saying later “Our culture is threatened. Our coastal economy is threatened. And everything that I know and love is threatened.  Even though this marsh lies along coastal Louisiana, these are America’s wetlands.”

At that point, overcome by emotion, Congressman Melancon could not continue.

Congressman Melancon’s reaction should be the reaction of each of us, as we see what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to the Gulf coast, and to the planet.  His words are what echo in my mind when I contemplate the future we are bequeathing to our children. Our culture is threatened, our economy is threatened, everything we know and love is threatened.  The time to take action is now, while there is still time to salvage some of what we know and love!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL9YXvYbk5Q&feature=player_embedded]

Click here to go to 350.org or  Kick The Fossil Fuel Habit.org for ideas and information about how we can turn this around, for everything and everybody we know and love!

Climate Change Denier Christopher Monckton’s Fabrications Eviscerated By University of Minnesota Professor

From Climate Progress, Professor John Abraham’s step-by-step deconstruction of one of the most famous of the anti-science deniers, the Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a.k.a Lord Chris Monckton:

The number of errors Chris Monckton makes is so enormous it would take a thesis to go through every single one of them.”

Click here to see the slide presentation of Professor Abraham, where he addresses Monckton’s talks, slide by slide, and shows how erroneous his assertions are, and how he twists the data of real scientists. A must-see!

Meanwhile down in the Gulf of Mexico BP still can’t say whether the oil will stop after it’s latest attempt to stop the underground volcano. Here’s a video from Greenpeace USA taken last week showing the extent of the disaster at that point, and hundreds of thousands more gallons have poured into this fragile ecosystem since then.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxoIZIG7IZY]

Click here to go to 1,000,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling’s “Write a Letter to the Editor” action page to make your voice heard against Big Oil’s push to “Drill Baby Drill”.


Gulf Oil Spill May Far Exceed BP’s Estimates, Now Much Bigger Than Exxon Valdez Disaster

According to experts commissioned by National Public Radio in the U.S., the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates.

This just in from NPR:

At NPR’s request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it’s not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.

Click here to read the full story and listen to the interview on NPR.

Meanwhile, yesterday on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Lautenberg (New Jersey) asked unanimous consent to raise liability cap on oil companies, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) objected! The Alaskan senior senator blocked the legislation that would have dramatically increased liability caps on oil companies, in the wake of one of the industry’s biggest disasters.

In honour of Ms. Murkowski’s jaw-dropping defense of Big Oil, I’m reposting this video from “Polluter Harmony”,  Even Environment-Hating Politicians Need to Feel Loved.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIfnVM4O3js&feature=player_embedded]

Spill Baby Spill, Kill Baby Kill

More horrifying news and pictures pour in from the  out of control oil volcano erupting in the Gulf of Mexico.  From The Huffington Post, “When Will It End?”:

Another week of oil pouring from the seafloor. That is the best-case scenario for the Gulf Coast, where dead sea turtles washed ashore and a massive rust-colored slick continued to swell from an uncontrolled gusher spewing into the water.

…”I’ve been in Pensacola and I am very, very concerned about this filth in the Gulf of Mexico,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said at a fundraiser for his U.S. Senate campaign Sunday night. “It’s not a spill, it’s a flow. Envision sort of an underground volcano of oil and it keeps spewing over 200,000 gallons every single day, if not more.”

Fishermen from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle got the news that more than 6,800 square miles of federal fishing areas were closed, fracturing their livelihood for at least 10 days and likely more just as the prime spring season was kicking in. The slick also was precariously close to a key shipping lane that feeds goods and materials to the interior of the U.S. by the Mississippi River.

Click here to read the full story.

From Climate Progress, “Shocking Allegations Against BP”:

At least one worker who was on the oil rig at the time of the explosion on April 20, and who handled company records for BP, said the rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company’s federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep, the lawyers said.

Click here to read the full story.

If only we had listened to Dr. Seuss, who warned us back in 1971, where we were heading with our wanton destruction and disregard for the balance of nature in The Lorax. You judge for yourself:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GECJcW2Ifm4]

“Greenwash” of the week – Chevron’s Solar Project

From Rainforest Action Network:

[We’re] bringing back our popular web TV show Greenwash of the Week. This week our charismatic hosts Nick and Brianna investigate the recent solar announcement by oil giant Chevron, dubbed “Project Brightfield.” Is it Project Brightfield or Project Bulls#%t?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgu2xQCyPcA]

For information on the Dirtiest Project on Earth, the Alberta Tar Sands, go to:

The Pembina Institute’s Oil Sands Watch

Or to Tarnation.ca to have fun playing a video game and at the same time send a message to Canadian politicians that the it’s time to get Chevron and the rest of the Big Oil companies out of the Alberta tar sands, and place a moratorium on oil sands development.

We All Subsidize Big Oil’s War On Our Grandchildren

Corporate Knights is “the” Canadian magazine for responsible business, and calls for clean capitalism. Jim Harris, author, environmentalist, and former leader of the Green Party of Canada, recently discussed our addiction to oil, and demonstrated how governments around the world subsidize Big Oil and Gas companies to the tune of $500 billion a year!!  It turns out that we are all paying to destroy our grandchildren’s future, while these corporations rake in huge profits. BP, for example, whose profits in the first quarter of 2010 were $5.6 billion, is the same company whose oil rig sunk in the Gulf of Mexico last week, and which is pouring 42,000 gallons of oil per day into the ocean. This growing slick is expected to hit the vulnerable coast of Louisiana this weekend.

BP is just one example of how  oil companies rake in monstrous profits while making us,  our oceans, and our planet sick. Seven to the top 20 most profitable corporations worldwide were oil companies in 2008 – and their cumulative profit roughly equaled the other 13 firms added together. The question we should all be asking ourselves is why are global governments subsidizing the most profitable corporations in the world?

In contrast, subsidies to green energy sources are only 6-9 cents on the dollar when compared to oil and gas subsidies.

Click here to view Harris’s special presentation on Corporate Knights web site. Also available on the website is a word doc giving you all the links and documentation from the presentation. This is an incredible resource for those working for urgent action on climate change. Jim also invites your feedback – you can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.com.

Meanwhile, there are signs of change.  100,000 people rallied on the Mall in Washington D.C. last Sunday to call for action on climate change and a green energy economy.

For more on this story, click here or here.