January 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration, is one of those moments when past, present and future collide, this time in the halls of the Supreme Court. The judges will hear a case (BP PLC against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore), and the most interesting question is: how many judges will there be? Because, as new research shows, Amy Coney Barrett, the young member of this august bench, should recuse herself.
The Supreme Court case rests on a narrow procedural issue, but the underlying lawsuit is one of nearly two dozen filed by cities and states that want oil companies to compensate them for the damage – the rising seas and increasing winds – caused by the products of the fossil fuel industry. They argue, and the record leaves little doubt, that the industry has known for decades that it is causing dangerous climate change. These are the biggest lies companies have ever told: If Philip Morris kills us one smoker at a time, BP and ExxonMobil and the rest will wipe out the entire planet, like the new record the world set for a billion dollars ” natural ”disasters in 2020 specifies this. This list of duplicate companies includes Shell, where Barrett comes in: his father, Michael, was a lawyer for Shell for almost three decades. During her Senate confirmation hearings, Barrett provided a challenge list she had used during her years as an appeals court judge – it included four subsidiaries of Shell, but not Shell Offshore, Inc. , even though his father represented this Shell entity in judicial and administrative forums for at least thirteen years. He also worked for the American Petroleum Institute for two decades, chairing its subcommittee on exploration and production law. And those two roles could be crucial for the case before the Supreme Court: as pointed out by Lee Wasserman, the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, which played a key role in the fight for the accountability of the oil companies, Barrett Sr. could be called for a deposit. “Judge Barrett’s father potentially has first-hand knowledge and operational involvement in how Shell has handled climate threats. He also faces a reputational risk from his association with colleagues engaged in decades of corporate deception.
For example, in 1988 – the year the NASA Scientist James Hansen has made the greenhouse effect a public issue – Royal Dutch Shell has produced a confidential internal memo after five years of internal reviews. The memo, which was discovered in 2018 by Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers, notes that climate impacts could include “significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, rainfall patterns, regional temperature and weather.” . He observes that the changes would have an impact on “the human environment, future living standards and food availability, and could have major social, economic and political consequences”. These environmental and socio-economic changes may be the “most significant in recorded history”. The note includes this jarring observation: “By the time global warming becomes detectable, it may be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even stabilize the situation.” The document also calculated how much Shell was on the hook for all of this; he concluded that the company could be linked to four percent of all the carbon dioxide that humans, as of 1984, had released into the atmosphere. And Shell executives took the warning seriously – among other things, they quickly redesigned a natural gas platform to increase its height and protect against sea level rise and intensifying storms. As Wasserman puts it, “There is almost no chance that someone as old as Mr. Coney, who worked primarily in the offshore SCO [Outer Continental Shelf] exploration and production area, “would not have known about the problem.” (Late Tuesday afternoon, a coalition of environmental groups, including 350.org, of which I am the Senior Advisor Emeritus, called on Judge Barrett to recuse herself.)
Shell, instead of admitting the damage it had done, teamed up with other fossil fuel companies to form the Global Climate Coalition, which led a huge (and hugely successful) decade-long campaign to confuse the public. There’s no way to take it back now – it’s water under (and, increasingly, above) the bridge. But there can still be justice, in this case for taxpayers in cities like Baltimore, who, while not responsible for the damage caused by fossil fuel companies, must pay for the protection their homes now need. This justice depends on taking the past seriously, which is not easy for any of us. It will be interesting to see how Judge Barrett reacts.
Pass the microphone
Robin Broad is a professor at the American University; she was an international economist at the Treasury Department and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Together with her husband, John Cavanagh, she helped build the network of international allies that led the global fight against gold mining in El Salvador, a fight based on the argument that mines would destroy the country’s rivers. . They recount the decade-long battle in their new book, “Defenders of Water: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed”. (Our conversation has been edited slightly for length and clarity.)
It has been called a story of David and Goliath. Can you explain in a few words what happened in El Salvador and why it was so dramatic?
In fights against Goliath companies like ExxonMobil and Amazon, the Davids hardly ever win. In El Salvador, courageous people from poor and remote communities beat the odds. To save their precious rivers, they resisted powerful mining companies. And, despite the brutal murder of four of their comrades, they continued to fight for thirteen years and eventually triumphed. How did they do it? They won public opinion by defining their struggle as pro-water rather than against mines. Their slogan: “Water is life”. With creative daring, they cultivated unlikely allies, including right-wing ministers and lawmakers and conservative archbishops. As their corporate enemies were global, they forged their own international alliances. Labor, environmental and religious activists in the United States, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and other countries are lobbying governments, companies and international institutions in solidarity with Salvadoran water advocates.
Ultimately, they defeated a lawsuit against a company in a Washington, DC court – and they persuaded their national legislature to make El Salvador the first country in the world to ban mining.
Water advocates have popped up around the world, Standing Rock is a prime example. Are people learning from each other as these fights multiply?
Now you’re asking me to move on to some of the surprises in the book. Trying not to reveal too much, here’s another piece of good news: A Filipino governor became a secret weapon in Salvadoran victory. He traveled halfway around the world to El Salvador to offer his first-hand testimony about the dangers of large-scale mining. He then returned home with tales of Salvadoran victory, helped raise awareness that water is life, and joined Filipino water advocates in blocking the continued functioning of a global mining company.
So just as the Standing Rock Sioux are celebrated in the United States and shared lessons with indigenous communities from Arizona to Minnesota, El Salvador’s water advocates have been invited by communities – from Haiti and from Peru to Canada and Australia – to share the story of their unexpected victories. And the movements have learned from each other to push governments to stop or restrict toxic mining in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and elsewhere.
We have seen unprecedented hurricanes in the last few months that hit Central America. Do you think climate refugees are heading north and how Americans should think of them if they come?
Yes. Even before the devastating hurricanes, years of climate change-induced droughts in Central America shriveled coffee, beans and corn crops, creating countless climate refugees. Their ranks have been fueled by decades of socially and environmentally destructive economic policies imposed by US-backed governments across the region.
Having said that, it is essential to understand that most of the people we have encountered in rural Central America love their land and cultures and would prefer to stay in their homes, if they have the opportunity to live there safely and in dignity. They want to farm the land they have farmed for generations and fish the rivers they have fished for generations. This is why Salvadorans risked their lives to save their rivers from the Big Gold rather than heading north.
And that’s why, as the Biden administration makes climate change a top priority, it should simultaneously end military assistance to the Honduran dictatorship and stop so-called foreign aid that promotes high-intensity megaprojects. energetic. Rather, our government should offer aid that supports small farmers and sustainable local livelihoods.
While on the theme of fighting the Philistines, Geoff Dembicki, in Canadian publication The Tyee, gives the best account I have read of how Brooklyn community groups have been successful in fighting plans to development of luxury and to preserve the South Brooklyn waterfront. as an industrial space “where people could earn decent wages by building the wind turbines, solar panels and low-carbon technologies needed for a Green New Deal”. Dembicki quotes Elizabeth Yeampierre, one of the heroes of the fight: “Looks like it’s not David and Goliath. It was David and five Goliaths.