How to Fight Corporate Greed And Actually Make A DifferencePosted: March 13, 2012 | |
Yesterday I posted the rather dismal news about Pennsylvania’s Act 13, a corporate-driven piece of legislation that bows on bended knee to the gas and oil industry at the expense of citizen and community civil rights. All for the love of fracking, natural gas and profits. Did I mention there’s a glut of natural gas on the market right now? The price has dropped like a stone due to oversupply and the incredibly mild winter we’ve had in the States. Prices, however, are much higher elsewhere. Asia and Europe, for instance. And energy companies are pushing for permits to build LNG [liquid natural gas] terminals for that very purpose. According to Forbes magazine:
A thousand cubic feet of natural gas currently costs $14 to $15 in Asia, $8 to $9 in Europe, and $4 in North America, down 9 percent from what it was at the outset of 2011.
That could make corporate CEO’s and investors very grumpy.
It could also make Pennsylvania residents grumpy. It’s bad enough to compromise the environment, jeopardize water supplies and threaten the health of American citizens but then the product is exported elsewhere for increased profits? I can hear heads exploding.
The Forbes article indicates the high investment cost on LGN terminals could easily make this scheme impractical. But the scale of these problems and the power that large corporations wield seem depressingly insurmountable. With energy solutions, the problems are magnified. We need energy to keep on, keeping on. The question is finding a balance between getting the energy we need and what we’re willing to accept as ‘collateral damage.’ It can make your head hurt.
Karma must have led me to an article by Jim Schultz, the executive director of the Democracy Center, an organization that works globally to educate citizens on effective advocacy for environmental and social issues. His article, ‘Three Ways to Beat Corporate Giants’ improved my mood immensely.
Make It Personal
The example Schultz provides is the Bolivian Water Revolt against Bechtel and the World Bank’s meddling. I’d heard about the 2000 revolt previously, the privatization of the public water supply in Bolivia’s third largest city, Cochabamba. Within weeks of taking over, Bechtel raised water prices by nearly 50%. The poor were literally forced to choose between food or water. Massive protests resulted in the city as rural people joined the pushback. The president, Hugo Banzer, tried repressing the opposition but protests continued unabated. A resulting 4-day workers’ strike brought the strife to an end–Banzer cancelled the Bechtel contract.
However, what I didn’t know [or didn’t remember] was that Bechtel attempted to sue the citizens of Cochabamba for $50 million, though their investment was reportedly less than $1 million. Activists then made the fight personal. Their goal? Make the life of CEO Riley Bechtel and his top management team miserable. They flooded their personal accounts with email. They derided their names and actions at every opportunity in the media. They protested in front of the company’s headquarters and the officer’s private residences. Ultimately, the protest prevailed. Bechtel settled for a token payment of 30 cents.
Add Humor To Your Protests
The plan to replace a coal-fired station is featured, a project in southwest England to be built by a German energy company. Environmentalists and grassroot activists used protests, petitions and civil disobedience—standard fare. But they also added a twist. Since the new station was advertised as ‘clean coal,’ protestors showed up to publicly scrub coal in front of the German company’s office [E. On Energy] and then sent a Santa brigade to deliver the coal to ‘naughty’ executives. This action caught the attention and favor of the public. Ultimately, the protest worked—the energy company withdrew its plans and the UK government pledged not to approve any other coal-fired stations without carbon capture and storage capabilities [a technology yet to be fully developed].
Concentrate On Shareholders
The successful campaign against Occidental Oil Co. and their plans to drill in the Columbian ‘cloud forest,’ focused on the primary investors of the oil field development plan. The region, which is the tribal home to the indigenous U’wa people, the environmental threat to the bio-diversity of the area and the fear of armed violence from the country’s FARC rebels fueled massive protests on Fidelity Investments, a primary shareholder of Occidental. It was through the protests and the exposure of the U’wa people’s way of life—their spiritual connection to the forest, what they stood to lose–that convinced [maybe shamed] the business world to withdraw support and funding for the project. Another win.
In the end, our national and global problems look insurmountable and corporate power certainly appears invincible at first glance. It’s a good refresher to realize that there have been victories and there are citizens, here and abroad, willing to put it on the line and speak out against the rise of corporate greed and bullying. Activists may not win all the battles. But they’ve won some and continue to pushback. For that, I salute them. It’s also a reminder as one Occupy sign shouted out:
And then, I stumbled across this video. It made me laugh and laughing is good for the soul. I’d file this under category #2 in Jim Schultz’s guidebook. Sometimes humor can make a statement of its own.