Uprooting the Environmental Causes of Poverty & War
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 disruption.
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 Saro-Wiwa.
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 1950s.
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 negotiations.
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 struggle continues."
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 being destroyed.
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 act.
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 <www.patriciadines.info>.

WEB BONUS: Links for more information on the topics discussed in this article


Action alert: "URGENT: Peru Is Murdering Amazon Protesters!," Rainforest Action Network
Article: "Oil and Indians Don't Mix," June 12 2009, by Greg Palast
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 Peru.

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 traditions."

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 2009
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 Stephen Kretzmann
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 destroyed."
Book: "Curse of The Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta" Photographs by: Ed Kashi Edited by: Michael Watts
"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. 2008
UN assessment with recommendations.
Website: "Shell in Nigeria: What are the issues?" (From 2001)
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 problem worldwide."
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