Comment: The $27 billion Environmental Lawsuit

Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador's Amazon

Image by Rainforest Action Network via Flickr

This was a comment piece I wrote in my first year, for the unit “Writing for Different Purposes”. It is a comment piece based on a real subject and article that appeared in the Independant in January 2010.


Comment Writing Assignment

Global warming, human rights violations, warfare. It is only in the last decade that we, as societies, have started to realise the consequences that we have on this planet. The continued economic and technical growth of the western world is now starting to face issues. Fossil fuels won’t last forever, and warfare based on these finite resources is not acceptable in this day and age, with people protesting against the Iraq war and, rightly or wrongly, returning soldiers. However, it is the ‘heated’ threat about the effects of global warming and climate change that has led many to wonder if we can continue our western economic expansion if our actions are doing irreversible damage to the world, and whether we have the right to disregard developing countries and their valid entitlement to a clean planet. With meetings such as the G20 conference and movements aimed at reducing emission as an attempt to combat climate change, it is left in the hands of world leaders to reach a consensus on targets. But what about the real polluters of the planet, the multi-national corporations?

The US oil company Texaco, now owned by Chevron, faces a lawsuit that has been sixteen years in the making, from around 30,000 Ecuadorians. If successful, the lawsuit could lead to Chevron owing $27.3bn, which would make it the largest environmental law-suit ever. Since the mid-1960s, Texaco reportedly dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the streams, rivers and jungle of Lago Agrio and it’s surrounding areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Around 18 million barrels of crude oil was leaked from pipelines in the region, and over 235 billion cubic feet of natural gas was burned into the atmosphere. Surely this is a serious danger to the people in the region, and indeed important evidence of the way large companies such as Texaco (now Chevron) conduct dangerous and illegal activities, putting lives at risk and harming the environment? 235 billion cubic feet of natural gas was burned into the earth’s atmosphere by Texaco, and it has taken a sixteen year battle to push through this lawsuit from 30,000 Ecuadorians who feel violated. There has been reportedly 1,400 cancer deaths that court-appointed experts have attributed to Texaco’s operations in the area. However, Chevron have fought back and stated that “the health issues in the Oriente are not related to Texaco Petroleum’s former operations”. This is despite evidence showing illegally high toxic chemicals in soil and water samples in the area. This immediately raises issues. If a company such as Chevron can be allowed to cause such damages to both people and the planet, then what hope do world leaders have of reaching a consensus about global targets? The companies have their own agendas, and Chevron is fighting back despite having 30,000 Ecuadorians behind a lawsuit and clear evidence of illegal and dangerous activities. It is evident that this action is not tolerable and not sustainable, especially with global economic and environmental targets attempting to be made. The West can no longer damage the developing world with no remorse or responsibility being made. Unfortunately for the Ecuadorians, it seems the only way to hold corporations such as Texaco (Chevron) to account is to take them through the law system, in which the wealthy company can hire the best lawyers, attempt bribes, etc. because often, money does equal power. However it seems it is the only way to gain compensation, and so I wish the Ecuadorians success.

Chevron should be made an example of. The lawsuit is still in progress and a judge has not ruled a decision yet, but if Chevron are allowed to walk away with minimal damages then it will set an example to other companies of wealth that money does buy power. Human rights issues and the threat of global warming are being debated everywhere, and yet here we have a perfect example of a company having too much power and too much freedom, and they are not alone in this. There are many companies and corporations that produce sweat-shop made clothes, or damage the environment, or violate human rights in the third world even today. Chevron should be made accountable to their actions, just like any company engaging in damaging activities should be. As societies we are reaching crucial stages in economic and social development. Do we continue to expand regardless, harming the world further, or do we take responsibility for our actions? More importantly, the age of corporate power should be over. Governments and people should stand up to companies like Chevron, just like those 30,000 Ecuadorians have, and hold them accountable to the damage that they have caused. There is no point whatsoever in governments attempting to make targets as a country if multi-national and immensely wealthy companies are allowed to be a law unto themselves. If this is allowed to continue then it will only set an example to the people of the world that the will of the people cannot match that of money and power. Everyone has to share this planet, which is why such heated debates about our future and our impact on the planet are springing up. However, all too often it appears that there are powerful corporations who have their own agenda and follow their own laws, engaging in illegal activities that they are never held fully accountable for. It is not even as if we turn a blind eye, as the information always leaks out, such as seen with Texaco’s activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but rather we simply accede power and freedom to these companies when in reality we should be stricter than ever with monitoring their operations and activities, and deciding upon which practises (such as dumping toxic waste in rivers and burning billions of cubic feet of natural gas) are not acceptable any more.

(Article noted: The independent on Sunday, 10 January 2010)


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