Netherlands: Oil Companies Wreak Destruction from Arctic Circle to Nigeria

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It might seem a little odd that people in a settlement
100 miles north of the Arctic Circle should complain
about the world getting warmer. But the indigenous
Gwich'in residents of Arctic Village in Alaska have
good reason to be worried. Strange plants are moving
in, lakes are disappearing into cracks in the thawing
underground permafrost, and the migration patterns of
the all-important caribou herds have changed almost
beyond recognition.

Don't blame the caribou - they probably don't know
what time of year it is. "We depend entirely on the
four seasons," says Sarah James, a Gwich'in
representative who is in The Hague to talk to an
'alternative' climate summit taking place in parallel
with the official UN talks. "We can't even predict
what is coming next."

As delegates caught up on their sleep during the
official day of rest yesterday, speakers were lining
up at the 'Climate Justice Summit' to tell their
stories of devastation wrought by oil companies. One
of the main themes of the conference was an emphasis
on the leading role being taken by local communities
trying to stop the climate change problem at source by
confronting oil and mining companies.

Prominent among the casualties is Ken Saro-Wiwa,
who was hanged in 1995 with eight other Ogoni
activists by the Nigerian government for his campaign
to drive Shell out of the Niger Delta. Saro-Wiwa's
brother Dr. Owens Wiwa spoke of his Ogoni homeland as
an 'epicentre' of climate change:

"Rising sea levels are going to lead to the
disappearance of the Niger Delta, whose people and
environment have already been under assault by the oil
industry for more than 40 years," Dr Wiwa said. "It
is crucial for the drilling to stop, so as to save
both the Delta and the world's climate."

Evidence is now streaming in from around the world
that recent extreme weather events are directly
related to the speed of global warming. The UK
suffered its worst floods for 50 years in November,
bringing the climate change issue onto the front pages
for the first time. At almost the same time in
Bangladesh, over four million people were being
affected by flooding - with one million driven out of
their homes as environmental refugees.

At least two islets have already disappeared in the
Pacific island nation of Kiribati because of rising
sea levels. In the longer term small island states -
who are together responsible for only one per cent of
global carbon dioxide emissions - face total
submergence. "What is at stake is basic human
survival," Tinidad and Tobago's Kishan Kumarsingh told
a thinly-attended press conference two days ago. "Why
should we move out of our birthland? Our people have
lived there for thousands of years."

A note of desperation is creeping into the voices
of environmental groups and small island states
representatives here at The Hague. Almost every day
the US delegation comes up with new proposals for
loopholes in the already-limited Kyoto Protocol. Most
absurdly, the US wants to be able to claim 300 million
tonnes of carbon credits as a result of not destroying
existing standing forests. Added together, these
'flexibilities' could allow the world's most
profligate consumer of fossil fuels to wriggle out of
a full 80 per cent of its carbon emission reduction

In spite of this grim outlook, Conference Chairman
Jan Pronk threw a party last night at the Ministry of
Environment, to which all delegates, staff and
accredited media were invited to unwind and enjoy a
sumptuous buffet, including six different types of raw
fish. For some observers - including a group of
demonstrators, kept out of the building by riot police
- the event had a special significance.

"I think it's offensive. They're supposed to be
saving the planet, not having a celebration," said one
observer. But as the different delegations - with
their diverging interests temporarily forgotten - got
down and did their 'funky stuff' to derivative Dutch
saxophonist Candy Dulfer, the weight of destiny seemed
to have lifted itself from their shoulders. The
current likelihood is that by the end of this week
they will have even less reason to celebrate.

AMP Section Name:Climate Justice Initiative
  • 100 Climate Justice Initiative