Environmental Causes of Poverty &
- Uprooting the Environmental Causes of
Poverty & War
- by Patricia Dines
- August 2009
Sonoma County Peace Press, Published by the Sonoma County Peace
& Justice Center
- (c) Patricia Dines, 2009. All rights reserved.
- When we look beneath the surface of war, injustice, and
poverty -- we often discover roots of environmental
- Take, for example, the tale of the Nigerian people. They've
been in the news recently because of Shell's ground-breaking $15.5
million settlement with ten plaintiffs harmed for challenging
their land's eco-destruction. The suit's beneficiaries include,
after 14 long years, the family of community leader Ken
- For countless generations, Saro-Wiwa's people, the indigenous
Ogoni, have lived on the lush Niger Delta -- fishing, farming, and
enjoying the earth-based community lives once normal for all of
our ancestors. The Delta is one of the world's largest and most
biodiverse wetlands, with more freshwater fish species than any
other West African ecosystem.
- The natives' lives changed when colonial interests entered in
the early 1900s, and then again with oil's discovery in the late
- Soon oil spills and leaks were poisoning the water, killing
fish, destroying mangrove forests, degrading farmland, and
undermining the ability of ecosystems to support life. Gas flares
often burned 24 hours a day, producing constant light and intense
heat, coating everything with thick toxic soot, and corroding
buildings with acid rain. The people lost their sources of food,
medicine, and firewood, and suffered respiratory illnesses, skin
rashes, malnourishment, cancer, and more.
- Instead of preventing this damage, the military government
allied with the oil companies, generating enormous profits for a
few while forcing natives to either endure or leave their lands
for negligible compensation.
- The people increasingly objected. In 1992, the Movement for
the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was formed, led by author
Saro-Wiwa, son of an Ogoni chieftain. Committed to non-violence,
MOSOP called for an immediate end to the environmental
degradation, plus adequate compensation and a role in drilling
- Unfortunately, the government responded with escalating
repression -- razing villages, detaining and killing Ogoni chiefs
and villagers, and creating an estimated 100,000 internal
refugees. When Saro-Wiwa was unjustly executed in 1995 (with eight
other activists), he famously said, "Lord, take my soul, but the
- Governments and human rights groups around the world responded
with outrage, imposing sanctions and calling for boycotts. But the
harm continued, and today, says writer Michael Watts, "the Niger
Delta is one of the most polluted landscapes on the face of the
earth." The Ogonis, instead of growing wealthy from their oil,
suffer intense poverty and disease.
- Some Nigerians still seek solutions non-violently, including
Saro-Wiwa's son, who hopes that settling the Shell suit will
demonstrate the viability of non-violence. Other Nigerians, such
as Tompolo of the group MEND, say that they feel violence is
necessary, because they can no longer just watch their people
- Looking at these (all too common) dynamics, we can easily feel
sad, frustrated, and powerless, wondering what to do. Yes, we can
support appropriate non-profits and encourage our government to
- However, by recognizing the underlying environmental causes,
we can see additional ways to be part of the solution.
- Because this story isn't just about Nigeria nor just about
Shell. Around the world, we see petroleum extraction and use
harming the earth and its peoples.
- Understanding this connection helps motivate me to change my
habits and help others do the same, to move ourselves away from
petroleum energy and other toxic industries, and meet our needs
without disabling the essential systems of life.
- I think that our environmental crises, like our wars, are
calling on us to embody our higher nature -- while there's still
time, while the precious diversity of creation and civilization
still breathes. Changing how we live can help ensure that the
Ogoni, and ultimately all of us, survive.
- Patricia Dines is a writer and public speaker. Her
specialty is inspiring and empowering constructive action on
environmental issues. For more information, see
WEB BONUS: Links for more
information on the topics discussed in this article
ABOUT THE OVERALL ISSUES
- Action alert: "URGENT: Peru Is Murdering Amazon
Protesters!," Rainforest Action Network
- Article: "Oil and Indians Don't Mix," June 12 2009, by
EXCERPT: "There's an easy way to find oil. Go to some remote and
gorgeous natural sanctuary, say Alaska or the Amazon, find some
Indians, then drill down under them. If the indigenous folk
complain, well, just shoo them away. Shooing methods include:
bulldozers, bullets, crooked politicians and fake land sales." ...
Includes mention of the Ogoni as well as current issues in
Website: The Indigenous Environmental Network
"A network of Indigenous Peoples empowering Indigenous Nations
and communities towards sustainable livelihoods, demanding
environmental justice and maintaining the Sacred Fire of our
- Song: "We are the world." Beautiful song, articulating
and reminding us of what our heart already knows about our shared
humanity. From the past USA for Africa campaign.
Article: "Ogoni: MOSOP Welcomes Settlement," UNPO, June 11
Ogoni Response to Shell suit settlement, both what they value and
what else they feel is needed.
- Article: "Shell's Settlement Doesn't Hide Unsettling
Reality in Nigeria," The Huffington Post, June 10, 2009, By
- Article: "Shell settlement with Ogoni people stops short of
full justice," by John Vidal, June 10, 2009
- Article: "The Niger Delta: The curse of the black
gold," Aug. 2, 2008
"This should be paradise. A land of plenty. The finest schools and
hospitals, gleaming infrastructure that shames the West, a place
where wealth literally oozes out of the marshy undergrowth.This
was the dream, anyhow...
But while we have been using their oil to drive our cars, fuel our
aeroplanes, and keep the wheels of our economy turning, those in
the Delta have had their land, their lives, their dreams
- Book: "Curse of The Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the
Niger Delta" Photographs by: Ed Kashi Edited by: Michael
"Curse of the Black Gold takes a graphic look at the profound cost
of oil exploitation in West Africa. Featuring images by
world-renowned photojournalist Ed Kashi and text by prominent
Nigerian journalists, human rights activists, and University of
California at Berkeley professor Michael Watts, this book traces
the 50-year history of Nigeria's oil interests and the resulting
environmental degradation and community conflicts that have
plagued the region."
- Report: "Oil For Nothing: Multinational Corporations,
Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta,"
1999. Report from team who visited there.
- Report: "Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
(UNPO), Submission to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Universal Periodic Review: Nigeria", Sept.
UN assessment with recommendations.
- Website: "Shell in Nigeria: What are the issues?" (From
- Article: "The Killing Fields: Oil ravages the Niger Delta,"
by Greg Campbell, In These Times magazine, June 2001
"Christiana Akpode was knee-deep in gasoline when the fire
started. No one knows how it started exactly, only that a roaring
fireball suddenly engulfed a river of raw petroleum on the
outskirts of this rural village in the Niger Delta.... Alfred
Dmamogho, spokesman for the Jesse Town council of elders, says
there were up to 1,000 people wading through the river and
standing on the banks when it caught fire... Almost three years
later, she wishes she hadn't escaped.
"Six Ogoni men have been guarding the machine against thieves and
looters night and day even though they stopped receiving wages
eight months ago, according to one of the guards. "The type of
water we are taking in here because of the pollution is killing
us," Agbara says. "The air we breathe is poisonous, no crops grow
well because the oil has killed the land. It is time for them to
come into this area and pay us."
- "If they fail to settle with us," he adds, "we will take this
- More about the Ogoni people -- their culture, history,
and challenges with oil and Shell
This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2009. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 08/05/09