Several years ago, Amnesty International (AI) and Sierra Club jointly produced a video about human rights issues involved in the environmental movement. It was sparked by the murder of a leading environmentalist in one of the African countries. There have been environmentalists that have disappeared or been murdered in other countries as well
The right to clean air, clean water, and a toxic free environment are basic rights that every human, as well as all other animals, should enjoy. Those living in poverty should not be forced to bear all the burdens of the polluters in any society. This is the issue addressed through environmental justice.
It is not uncommon for the dirtiest industries to be located in lower income and minority neighborhoods. Superfund sites are disproportionately located in low income areas. Oil companies, smelters, mining companies, and other industry often leave lands polluted, without remediation, in other countries.
The Midwest Regional Conference of Amnesty International was held in Kansas City the last weekend of October this year. Chapter vice-chair/conservation chair Craig Lubow is an organizer of the conference on the programming committee. This year we had an environmental component in which Sierra Club members Elaine Giessel and Richard Mabion were presenters. They presented a workshop entitled “Midwest Coal Plants: Environmental Equity and Corporate Accountability”. They were joined by Jason Disterhoft, an AI member.
Elaine defines environmental justice, also known as environmental equity, as “Development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies and laws to ensure that no group or community is made to bear a disproportionate share of the harmful effects of pollution or environmental hazards because it lacks economic or political clout.” Coal power plants tend to be located disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color. This includes the BPU coal plants in the Kansas City area.
Amnesty is currently working on an environmental catastrophe in the Niger Delta, perpetrated by Shell Oil Company. The following is from a current Amnesty alert:
There used to be life and hope in the Niger Delta town of Bodo, a village filled with thriving fish ponds and mangrove trees. Then in 2008, two oil spills changed everything. Nearby Shell Oil pipelines twice spewed toxic oil for weeks before they were repaired.
“It killed all the mangrove trees, the ecosystem, everything we put there. Everything just died in a day.” –Bodo resident Christian Lekoya Kpandei
What was Shell Oil’s initial response to the devastation in Bodo, to Christian’s ruined fish ponds and livelihood? Silence.
Although Shell has accepted liability for these two spills, it is still silent on the issue of undertaking a comprehensive clean-up of the affected area, fully compensating the people whose lives have been devastated by the spills, and rehabilitating the affected area.
The facts are indisputable. According to a recently released UN report, Shell has failed to adequately clean up pollution in the Niger Delta for years. It’s a familiar story these days — yet another corporation trying to weasel out of a mess of its own making.
Today, on the 16th anniversary of the execution of Nigerian environmental and human rights defender Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow activists, Amnesty is launching a new report that reviews the record of the Bodo spill and adds damning new facts.
Shell Oil, which recently reported profits of $7.2 billion for July-September 2011, initially offered the Bodo community just a few thousand dollars and 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.
Shell Oil is one of the three biggest companies in the world by revenue, a juggernaut in international business. But when it comes down to paying for a cleanup fund in Nigeria — to pay basic compensation to residents like Christian who lost everything in the oil spill Shell is liable for — this multinational corporation refuses to take responsibility.
Of course, if Shell commits to a $1 billion cleanup fund in Nigeria, as Amnesty is asking it to do, Shell’s shareholder profits may suffer a little. But we believe corporations should not put the profit of a few over the health and human rights of entire communities.
Stand up for “the 99%”, wherever they are. We can’t be silent while the human rights to water and livelihood are being destroyed by corporations like Shell.
For more information on this topic, go to www.aiusa.org.
PHOTO CAPTION NEEDED. Jason Disterhoft, which was the third presenter for their workshop.
By Craig Lubow