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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
WEBCommentary Contributor
Author:  Paul Driessen
Bio: Paul Driessen
Date:  September 7, 2006
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Topic category:  Other/General

Activist fraud and fund raising
The world’s poor are mere pawns and collateral damage in the war on corporations.

“What you get in your mailbox,” Audubon Society COO Dan Beard once admitted,” is a never-ending stream of shrill material, designed to evoke emotions, so you’ll sit down and write a check.” Added Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton: “I’m somewhat offended by it. But it works. It’s what builds the Sierra Club.”

“What you get in your mailbox,” Audubon Society COO Dan Beard once admitted,” is a never-ending stream of shrill material, designed to evoke emotions, so you’ll sit down and write a check.” Added Sierra Club conservation director Bruce Hamilton: “I’m somewhat offended by it. But it works. It’s what builds the Sierra Club.”

No doubt. But others pay a heavy price. And “shrill” hardly begins to describe the fabrications and vitriol of campaigns against companies, especially in extractive industries.

As developed countries build and upgrade facilities and infrastructures, China and India are leading the way in electrifying and modernizing poorer nations at an unprecedented pace. With 3 billion people struggling on $750 a year, 2 billion still without electricity or running water, and millions dying annually from malnutrition and diseases rarely seen in the West, the efforts are long overdue.

All require raw materials, and companies are scrambling to develop new energy and mineral deposits. While resource extraction is dangerous, dirty and ecologically intrusive, most Western firms emphasize modern technology, health, safety and environmental standards, land reclamation, and cooperation with local and indigenous people. Their operations are usually a major improvement over those conducted by millions of small, poorly regulated and often illegal “artisanal” mines, and even many government-run mines, smelters and oil production facilities in poor countries.

For radical social and environmental activists, however, none of this is relevant; correcting and punishing violations is insufficient. They simply don’t want globalization, foreign investment, mining or fossil fuel development.

More important, foreign-owned energy and mineral companies operating in developing countries are perfect focal points for well-orchestrated campaigns that stir up anger and resentment over exaggerated or imaginary environmental and human rights violations – so that people will write a check, and help build the activists’ visibility and power. Indigenous companies and operations, no matter how horrendous, don’t offer those bonuses and are thus ignored.

Moreover, the agitators clearly have the political and PR savvy, Internet skills and sympathetic media contacts to spin even the most trumped-up charges into gold. Some tip-of-the-iceberg examples.

  1. In 1995, Greenpeace railed that Shell Oil planned to sink a retired platform filled with oil. Its blitzkrieg embarrassed the company and garnered the Rainbow Warriors extensive news coverage. A year later, Greenpeace admitted the claims were fraudulent: there was no oil.

  2. A 5-year Rainforest Action-Amazon Watch campaign was centered around fabricated claims that Occidental Petroleum planned to drill a well on U’wa Indian lands. The drilling site was not in rainforests and actually belonged to impoverished peasants, who welcomed the prospect of jobs and the clinics, schools, safe water and other amenities Oxy provided. The real threat to the U’wa comes from leftist narco-guerillas – who were never mentioned in the activists’ attack ads.

    Oxy ultimately drilled a dry hole – and the radicals were off on new crusades.

  3. Amnesty International’s 2004 campaign against Oxy operations in Ecuador featured a photo of an oil pit and allegations that the company was “spewing pollution into the environment.”  The same photo had previously been used by Amazon Watch, to defame Texaco. The actual operator, it turned out, was state-owned PetroEcuador.

    The corrupt Ecuador government later expelled Oxy on other charges, which the company insists are equally bogus. Occidental’s departure means millions of dollars in annual corporate contributions disappeared, says the Financial Times, and PetroEcuador officials (who now run the operation) are unlikely to replace them. “They damage the environment and don’t help local communities,” one community leader complained. “Oxy helped us for 20 years,” said another – with roads, scholarships, sports facilities, vehicles, and water and sewage systems – and now the aid is gone.

  4. An antiquated government-operated smelter turned the Andean community of La Oroya, Peru into what a 1994 Newsweek article called “a vision from hell.” In 1997, an American company bought the facility, began installing modern pollution controls, and launched numerous civic projects. Several years later, Oxfam and Christian Aid arrived on the scene, to condemn Doe Run Peru for “poisoning” the air and water. The mayor and local people called the activists liars and demonstrated against them. 

  5. In Indonesia, groundless allegations by Friends of the Earth Indonesia, the New York Times and allies landed a Newmont Mining executive in jail. He’s charged with poisoning Buyat Bay and killing a young girl. However, studies by the World Health Organization and other reputable analysts point to a more likely cause of death: water contaminated by human and animal feces. Meanwhile, mining investment in the country has plummeted by 93% in just a few years, further jeopardizing jobs and living standards.

  6. After years of attacking Newman Lumber Company for “illegally” cutting timber in Peruvian forests, the Natural Resource Defense Council finally retracted its false claims. Not once during this time did it even mention that the real culprits were drug lords, who were clear-cutting and polluting thousands of acres annually, to grow coca and process cocaine. Taking them on could be dangerous.

Attacks on Newmont in Ghana, banks and dozens of other companies repeat the pattern. In none of these cases did the “concerned” activists provide financial support to the impoverished towns. Even when Oxy was building an eco-lodge and Doe Run was constructing public showers for residents who have no running water, the radicals contributed nada to the efforts.

The world’s poor are now little more than involuntary pawns – and collateral damage – in the eco-imperialists’ war on corporations, resource development and modernization. Millions for attacks – not one cent for aid, seems to be the activists’ motto.

They are forcing poor villagers to continue living in mud huts, burning dung, carrying and drinking tainted water, and battling malarial mosquitoes 24/7/365. But they’re not about to live that way themselves, or limit their own access to technologies that can support anti-corporate campaigns. And once they’ve closed down an operation, they simply head back to their comfortable US or UK homes, or find another corporate target, leaving impoverished locals to pick up the pieces.

Indigenous people, they like to assert, want to live the way their ancestors did. Some certainly do. But many want to adopt selected modern skills and technologies, to improve and enhance their lives.

“Living like our ancestors is a formula for extinction,” observed Cesar Serasera, leader of a national confederation of Amazon-Peru natives. To survive, indigenous people need jobs, healthcare, education, better nutrition and safe drinking water, he said, while holding onto important elements of their culture. Moreover, most of the people impacted by anti-corporate battles are poor, but not indigenous.

Radical groups – and those who support them – are entitled to promote their ideological agendas. They’re not entitled to invent “facts,” or pursue their selfish interests at the expense of the poor and powerless.

They need to start behaving like any other big, wealthy, multinational corporation: responsibly, ethically, honestly, and with concern for both people and the environment. And prospective donors need to begin demanding such behavior, before the sit down to write another check.

“We will have peace with the Arabs,” Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said, “when they love their children more than they hate us.” In the realm of environmental politics, there will be justice for the world’s poor when eco radicals love people more than they hate corporations and development.

Paul Driessen
Eco-Imperialism

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Biography - Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org), and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death and other books on the environment.


Read other commentaries by Paul Driessen.

Visit Paul Driessen's website at Eco-Imperialism

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Driessen
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