[Reader-list] The future of the atmosphere

Ravi Agarwal ravig1 at vsnl.com
Thu Jun 16 15:54:54 IST 2005

Good to hear, hard to explain..see below..... maybe these are times of

ravi agarwal

Oil firms and toxic waste disposal
The Punch, Thursday June 16, 2005

In spite of the United Nations' 1992 Basel Convention that banned toxic
waste trade worldwide, reports alleging reckless dumping of toxic wastes in
various parts of the country have persisted. Recently, oil multinational,
Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, was accused of burying suspected
toxic substances in Igbeku, Sapele Local Government Area of Delta State, in
2002. The community reportedly discovered last year, when their crops
started withering, that the waste was buried in a virgin land. Experts then
conducted soil tests and confirmed the waste as toxic. The SPDC has denied
the allegation, though its contractor was said to have handled the deal.

The company faced a similar charge in 1999, when a community in Ozoro, Isoko
Local Government, also in Delta State, accused one of SPDC's agents of
pumping over one million litres of chemicals suspected to be toxic waste
into a 17,000ft deep dry well. Strange health conditions, withered crops,
polluted farmlands and fish ponds were also reported. Shell was accused at
the time, yet it treated the alarm raised by the community with contempt.

The Sarabubowei community in Warri, Delta State, has also alerted the
authorities that three of its people have died in the past six months
following persistent release of dangerous chemicals from gas flaring by
ChevronTexaco. Many of the villagers are allegedly afflicted by strange
illnesses caused by dangerous emissions from the oil firm's facilities.

For long, the health of many Nigerians have been threatened by reckless
dumping of hazardous wastes. The most controversial, perhaps, was the Koko
toxic waste dump of 1987/1988. About 18,000 drums of lethal substances were
dumped on a piece of land provided by a Koko chief. The substances were so
potent that many who came in contact with them suffered burns, partial
paralysis and blood vomiting. Early this year, hazardous waste suspected to
be chlorine was dumped at Onipepeye in Ibadan. Some people who inhaled the
substance ended up in hospital, while surrounding vegetation immediately

There was a ray of hope that such stories would abate when, following the
Koko episode, the Federal Government, in 1988, set up the Federal
Environmental Protection Agency, FEPA, charged with the implementation of
the Harmful Waste (Criminal Provisions) Decree 42 of 1988 and other such
local and international laws. However, with reports that hundreds of alerts
have been received from 1992 to date, involving unscrupulous Nigerian and
international businessmen shopping for dump sites for toxic wastes in the
country, such optimism seems misplaced.

It is quite distressing that the SDPC and other oil firms have been
repeatedly accused of facilitating indiscriminate disposal of toxic waste.
Can the oil firms and their contractors trifle with the disposal of
hazardous wastes in countries where the laws on environmental degradation
are strictly applied? The companies are, obviously, exploiting the
complacence of the Nigerian Ministry of Environment and FEPA to gamble with
the health of the people.

In the face of government's insensitivity to the problem, Nigerians, NGOs,
and the human rights community should take up the gauntlet. Available laws
at home and abroad should be explored to redress clandestine business
practices that endanger the people's health and sources of livelihood.
Politicians, especially governors, senators, federal and state lawmakers, LG
chairmen and councillors, all should resist the lure of betraying their
communities for self-serving pursuits. Their claim of serving the people is
baseless if they cannot lead the battle to bring companies that toy with the
lives of Nigerians to book.

The Punch, Thursday June 16, 2005


----- Original Message -----
From: "Rana Dasgupta" <eye at ranadasgupta.com>
To: <reader-list at sarai.net>
Sent: Thursday, June 16, 2005 12:57 PM
Subject: [Reader-list] The future of the atmosphere

> The Chairman of Shell, Lord Oxburgh, is a pretty interesting person, and
> this interview with him is so too.  Bizarre that multinational oil
> corporations are lobbying governments to regulate oil consumption in
> anticipation of ecological catastrophe...
> R
> 'The boat is sinking'
> As our appetite for oil hastens climate change, who will speak out for
> the alternatives? One possible champion is Lord Ron Oxburgh, the
> distinguished geologist who also happens to be chairman of Shell. He
> tells Aida Edemariam why the time for complacency is over
> Wednesday June 15, 2005
> The Guardian
> When Lord Ron Oxburgh visited the Hay festival a couple of weeks ago he
> arrived during a spell of weather best described as unsettled. A
> record-breakingly warm Friday was followed on Saturday by a wild,
> gusting wind and, in the festival marquees, a great howling and a
> flapping of canvas.
> The lighting rigs creaked with the strain, and pictures of Hay,
> projected on to screens behind the performers, bucked and swayed; it was
> a glimpse of how it must feel to sail a boat into a storm, and an almost
> too appropriate backdrop to chief government scientist David King's calm
> laying out of the basic facts of climate change: that since the
> industrial period carbon dioxide levels have risen from 270 parts per
> million (classical for all previous warm periods) to 379ppm today, and
> are rising at 2ppm per year. In 10 years' time they will be at 400ppm;
> at 500ppm, Greenland's ice will melt entirely - it's already receding by
> 10 metres a year - and the sea level will rise, drowning coastal cities
> and entirely changing the contours of the earth. Most scientists now
> agree that unless we stabilise the earth's atmosphere by 2050, there
> will be no way to halt the disaster.
> Oxburgh, the non-executive chairman of Shell in the UK, on the dias with
> Greenpeace executive director Stephen Tindale, listened to King with
> increasing impatience, his abundant black eyebrows knitting restlessly
> under windblown white hair. As soon as he decently could, he grabbed the
> microphone, strode to the front of the stage and launched into his
> speech, contemptuous of the lectern, glancing only occasionally at his
> notes, leaning in towards the audience as if, like an evangelist, he
> wanted to pick everyone up and shake sense into them, just as the wind
> was shaking the tent. "We have roughly 45 years. And if we start NOW,
> not in 10 or 15 years' time, we have a chance of hitting those targets.
> But we've got to start now. We have no time to lose."
> We meet later but, returning to the speech, I suggest to Oxburgh that
> there is a certain inconsistency to his position. He heads one of the
> biggest petrochemical multinationals in the world; a multinational,
> moreover, whose recent track record includes an attempt to scupper the
> decommissioned Brent Spar oil platform; a series of North Sea gas leaks;
> struggles in the Niger Delta with the Ogoni tribe, who believe Shell's
> riches are being acquired at their expense; failure to halt the
> execution by the Nigerian government of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who campaigned
> for the Ogoni; oil spills and ground-level flaring in the Delta. The
> Climate Justice Programme has called this practice "environmental
> racism", as it seems only to happen in developing countries; Oxburgh,
> somewhat unconvincingly, insists the locals appreciate the flares as a
> heat source for drying fish.
> And then there was the unfortunate moment last year when Shell announced
> it was downgrading the size of its oil reserves by 20%, greatly
> upsetting its investors. Shell was subsequently investigated by the US
> Securities and Exchange Commission, and Oxburgh's predecessor lost his
> job - though in 2004 Shell somehow also posted the biggest profit of any
> British company ever: £9.3bn. So if the logical solution to the trouble
> we're in is to stop using oil, surely Oxburgh's comrades at Shell aren't
> too happy with him? "I think most of the people I work with talk in the
> same way. Though they might not talk about it so publicly." Also, many
> of them are, principally, businessmen; "the difference is, I have worked
> for a lot of my life as a research scientist. And if I don't say it,
> who's going to?"
> Oxburgh always wanted to be a scientist, but despite the support of his
> parents, who had themselves left school at 14, his teachers
> steamrollered him into classics at Oxford. After five terms he'd had
> enough, so he looked around and saw that the head of the geology
> department was also the man who had climbed furthest up Everest (this
> was before Edmund Hillary), "and I guess because I was a climber" he
> joined the geology department. "Geology was an incredibly boring subject
> in some ways, but for the fact that it got you out into the mountains."
> At Oxford he and his friends climbed every building they could, the
> prize being the crumbling cupola of its historic library, the Radcliffe
> Camera. There were no indoor climbing walls, so they practised on the
> mantelpieces in their rooms. He's 70 now, and doesn't climb any longer,
> but he loves orienteering, gleeful that it allows you to rely on your
> wits rather than physical fitness, and thus to beat people far younger
> than yourself.
> Shell made him his first job offer after he had finished a PhD at
> Princeton, where he made major contributions to the discovery of plate
> tectonics. But they wanted to wait until he had done military service;
> when the military rejected him, Oxford offered him a short teaching
> contract. He stayed for 18 years. Since then he has taught at Cambridge,
> been Rector of Imperial College London and was chief scientist at the
> MoD during the six years in which Russia imploded, the Berlin Wall came
> down, and the first Iraq war began. Now a KBE and crossbench life peer
> who sits on the House of Lords select committee on science and
> technology, he joined Shell as a non-executive director in 1996. He is
> tough, but approachable; he gives the impression of idealism, and
> smilingly refuses to be drawn into any criticisms of his company.
> But Oxburgh also has a reputation for independence and, in these last
> two months before he retires from the chairmanship, a fierce need to
> talk about the future. "Look, Shell is an energy company, not an oil
> company, and the fact is that neither Shell nor any other energy company
> is going to be doing business in the same way in 25 years' time."
> Already Shell "can't actually make enough solar panels at the moment to
> satisfy demand". So far it has spent $1.5bn, more than any other
> company, he says, on renewables. (To put this in context, the cost of
> getting one oilfield up and running can reach $10bn, though funding can
> come from a variety of sources.)
> But these are early days for biofuels and renewable energy, and early
> days too for a method many including Oxburgh tout as a possible eureka:
> carbon sequestration, which involves trapping the CO2 produced by
> burning fossil fuels and storing it, usually underground, in the
> cavities where the oil, natural gas, or coal came from in the first
> place. It's a possible option in the North Sea and in the US, but more
> difficult in India and China, where abundant cheap brown coal produces
> relatively high levels of CO2 but where there are few obvious places to
> store it.
> Which brings up another, potentially far greater, problem. As Oxburgh
> points out, China, India, Brazil and Mexico are rapidly emerging
> markets, and "as countries grow and become more prosperous, they use
> more energy. It is a sad fact that if these countries experience the
> perfectly legitimate growth in GDP [gross domestic product] that they
> have a right to expect, and they do so in the same energy-inefficient
> way that we have seen our prosperity grow, then I think we are wasting
> our time. Because, frankly, the numbers of people are so large, and the
> rate of change is so great, that there will be simply no hope of meeting
> our targets by 2050." China, for example, "is opening a new,
> old-fashioned, dirty, full-sized power station at the rate of one a
> fortnight." (The developing world, not surprisingly, will be most
> affected by climate change: Africa is forecast to get warmer at double
> the rate of anywhere else and, says David King, will soon be feeling the
> effects of climate change at a level rivalling the effects of the HIV
> epidemic.)
> This is the sort of issue that must be dealt with at government level,
> and governments are notoriously blind beyond the next election, not to
> mention worried about upsetting powerful corporations. Yet just a couple
> of weeks ago Shell and 12 other signatories, including BP, sent an open
> letter to Tony Blair, in which they pointed out that "governments tend
> to feel limited in their ability to introduce new policies for reducing
> emissions because they fear business resistance, while companies are
> unable to take their investments in low-carbon solutions to scale
> because of lack of long-term policies," and urged immediate action.
> Oxburgh advocates that government uses the controls at its disposal:
> "Regulate biofuels. Or subsidise. Or tax" - any incentive really, but
> "what we don't want to see is in two years' time the government simply
> becoming bored with climate change after we've invested a lot of our
> shareholders' money. Remember, those shareholders are pension funds and
> other similar organisations." The prospect of big business forcing
> government to regulate it would be funny, if it weren't so serious.
> Meanwhile, the price of oil is high at $55 a barrel, and the oil
> companies don't see it falling substantially in the near future. At the
> current rate of progress, says Oxburgh, "we are going to be really quite
> dependent on fossil fuels for another 50 years. And nothing is going to
> slow the world economy more, and inhibit our control of the greenhouse
> gas problem, than a world recession. So, fundamentally, what we are
> trying to do worldwide is to make sure that we have enough of a supply
> of oil and gas." Paradoxically, the high price of oil is also good for
> renewable energy, as it forces the speedier development of alternatives,
> and Oxburgh just views this as a further business opportunity: corn
> ethanol, to take the example of a biofuel currently in use, currently
> costs nearly as much as oil.
> Shell, therefore, is in no trouble. But the planet is, and Oxburgh sees
> no point in mincing words. "The boat is sinking, and we have to use
> everything that we possibly can."
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