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Nigerian, Native Alaskan Join Climate Justice Spring Tour

by Amit Srivastava and Joshua KarlinerCorpWatch
April 16th, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO -- CorpWatch announces our upcoming Climate Justice Tour, part of ongoing efforts to broaden the movement against climate change. The Tour, which takes place between April 18 - May 2, 2001, injects an environmental justice and human rights perspective into the global climate debate. Coming on the heels of President Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Climate Treaty, nothing could be more timely.

The Tour will feature two speakers- Oronto Douglas from Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Sarah James, Gwich'in from Alaska. While worlds apart, Nigeria's Niger Delta and Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are both on the receiving end of the human rights and environmental impacts of oil exploration and drilling. Both areas are also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and melting ice caps-placing Sarah and Oronto's communities at further risk.

Oronto Douglas and his organization are at the forefront of the movement to hold oil corporations accountable for more than 35 years of destruction in Nigeria. Sarah James is helping lead the Gwich'in effort to keep the Bush administration from opening up the Arctic Refuge to drilling. By doing so, both are also at the frontlines of the battle against climate change.

The Climate Justice Tour is being sponsored by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Environmental Justice Resource Center, Indigenous Environmental Network, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic & Social Justice, and Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice.


Do People Really Depend on Caribou from the Arctic Refuge? People Do.

The Bush administration has made it a priority to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and drilling by Chevron, BP Amoco and Exxon Mobil. The Arctic Refuge continues to be one of the last pristine areas in North America left "undeveloped." It is also very crucial to certain indigenous communities residing in the area who depend heavily on its resources.

The Gwich'in, for example, who live next to the Refuge are caribou people. They rely on the caribou herds for their food and livelihood. Any oil exploration and drilling threatens to devastate the Gwich'in community by disrupting caribou migration and calving, and may well destroy parts of the pristine Arctic Refuge grounds which the caribou use for their survival.

Not only does the opening of the Arctic Refuge immediately threaten the environment and human rights of the Gwich'in but it also poses a grave long-term threat to the Arctic at large and all the populations that reside within it.

Large oil corporations make a significant contribution to climate change. In fact, oil produced by just four companies (three of whom want to drill for more oil in the Refuge) -- Exxon-Mobil, BP-Amoco-Arco, Chevron-Texaco, and Shell -- accounts for 10% of all carbon dioxide emissions. The emerging Bush administration energy policy encouraging more oil and gas development in the Arctic and elsewhere, not only backtracks on commitments to reduce US carbon emissions, it also threatens to exacerbate the climate problem.

Climate change threatens to effect the Arctic more quickly and severely that other parts of the world. It will rapidly melt the glaciers found in abundance in the Arctic, raising the water levels and flooding out the communities. In addition, changing the climate wreaks havoc with the wilderness, depleting fish populations and making it harder for polar bears to survive. "We're going to get affected first by climate change," says Sarah James, "even though we're not the ones who produce the oil."

"Common sense is an endangered species," says James, who is a Gwich'in elder. "We have to get back to our common sense."


Climate Injustice in the Niger Delta

Given its policy of extending oil exploration at home, it's a good bet that the Bush administration will also continue traditional US policies championing the oil industry's interests abroad. It's also a sure thing that communities such as the Ogoni and Ijaw in Nigeria will continue to bear the brunt of the oil industry's human rights and environmental impacts.

The Ogoni in the Niger Delta, for example, have been struggling against large oil corporations such as Shell and Chevron not only because they pollute the Delta, but also because their communities receive next to no economic benefits from oil-based development.

Those who speak out face grave risks, as witnessed by the Ogoni Nine (including Ken Saro-Wiwa) who were hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship for their opposition the Royal Dutch Shell oil company. Other examples include Ijaw community members who were shot by the Nigerian military flying Chevron helicopters and driving Chevron boats.

The flagrant environmental and human rights abuse of these communities by the oil industry is compounded by the fact that the oil corporations' activities in the Delta are one of the world's largest sources of global warming gases in the world, emitting 35 million tons of carbon dioxide and 12 million tons of methane a year. As Oronto Douglas told CorpWatch in an interview, "The rivers are polluted. The waters are fouled. The airs are fouled through ceaseless gas flaring. Most of this gas flaring comes from multinational oil companies, which helps to increase the over carbonization of the atmosphere."

What's more, the Ijaw, Ogoni and other ethnic groups in the Delta will be hard hit by global warming. Mostly located in low-lying areas, the communities of the Niger Delta will be one of the first to be flooded by the increasing water levels cause by climate change. Often poor and politically marginalized, the Niger Delta communities are unable to cope adequately with these real impacts of global warming.

The effort to save the Niger Delta and the struggle to stop the Bush administration from opening the Arctic Refuge to oil development are key battles for Climate Justice. Holding oil corporations accountable for the destruction they wreak throughout the "lifecycle" of oil -- from exploration to drilling to refining -- is also central to achieving Climate Justice.

It is time for us to redefine the battle against climate change by placing human rights and environmental justice at the center of any solution to the problem.

As part of this Climate Justice Tour, Oronto and Sarah will be visiting with other communities of color affected by the oil industry. They will go to the San Francisco Bay Area, Louisiana's "cancer alley," Texas, and Atlanta to share a Climate Justice perspective with their counterparts in these places. View the tour itinerary.


Biographies of Speakers

Sarah JamesSarah James, a powerful Gwich'in woman, has been a voice for indigenous rights, human rights, and environmental issues for over 10 years. Since 1988 she has been a leader in the fight to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sarah's home is in Arctic Village, Alaska, the northernmost Native village in the United States. Gwich'in are caribou people, and much of their diet is based on wild caribou meat. The current proposal by the Bush administration to open up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil corporations for exploration and drilling will have adverse impacts on her community, including threatening caribou breeding grounds. Ms. James is a Board Member of the Gwich'in Steering Committee and the International Indian Treaty Council, member of the Arctic Village Council.

Oronto DouglasHuman Rights attorney and environmental activist, Oronto Douglas, is co-founder and deputy director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. He was a member of the legal team that defended writer, environmental activist and Nobel prize-nominated Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged along with eight others, by the Nigerian military regime in 1995. Douglas is an outspoken critic of Shell, Chevron, and other transnational oil companies for their ties with the Nigerian military and their policies leading to environmental and cultural devastation.

Amit Srivastava is CorpWatch's Climate Justice Coordinator and Joshua Karliner is Executive Director at CorpWatch.