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editorial - SchNEWS,  23 August 2002

"The least important global environmental issue is potential global warming, and we hope that your negotiators at Johannesburg can keep it off the table and out of the spotlight."
- Excerpt from a letter sent to George W. Bush by a group of Exxon Mobil funded lobbyists.

As if dodging out of the Kyoto treaty, supporting rabid fossil fuel consumption, and making money at the expense of all forms of life on earth weren't enough to keep them busy, it now seems that some of the big business lapdogs in Washington have taken it upon themselves to sabotage the upcoming Earth Summit in Johannesburg. In a letter to George W. recently leaked to the media by Friends of the Earth, thirty-one lobbyists - many funded by Exxon Mobil - told Bush that "we applaud your decision not to attend the Summit in person. The Johannesburg Summit will provide a global media stage for many of the most irresponsible and destructive elements involved in environmental issues. Your presence would only help to publicise and make more credible various anti-freedom, anti-people, anti-globalisation, and anti-Western agendas."

So let's get this straight - this lot doesn't want Bush to attend the conference because they think it's been taken over by irresponsible and destructive tree-huggers who, unlike them, wouldn't sell their own grandmothers to make a buck. They're upset because they think the Earth Summit is actually going to be a meeting of concerned environmentalists, gathering to discuss what can be done about the impending ecological disaster brought on by capitalism and free trade. They think the Summit is a threat to all the things they hold dear-greed, gain, and globalisation. But for once, dear readers, the joke's on the corporate whores. They needn't bother sabotaging the conference because it's already been sabotaged by their favourite things-multinational greed, corporate gain, and the push for globalisation at any cost.

If the American big business butt kissers would simply pause a moment to review some of the people who are planning to attend the Summit, they'd quickly realise they have nothing to fear. Just for kicks, let's look at some of Blair's hand-picked delegates. Blair's posse contains a number of his Big Business cronies including Bill Alexander, chief executive of Thames Water. The largest water company in the UK, Thames Water has been prosecuted for pollution over 20 times since 1996. Just two days after it was announced that Thames Water would become an official defender of the global environment in Johannesburg, its parent company, RWE, threatened to cancel the creation of 4,000 new jobs unless the European commission dropped its plans to impose stricter controls on carbon dioxide emissions. During the Summit, Bill Alexander will be making a speech outlining how private water companies can make immense contributions to environmental and humanitarian interests. Try telling that to the hundreds of South Africans who contracted cholera from drinking polluted river water after their unaffordable privatised water was cut off.

Chris Fay, another of Blair's prime choices, is not only a non-executive director of Anglo America, another of the world's mining giants, but he's also a director of British Airways and was formerly the chairman of Shell-mining, aviation, and oil being three of the most sustainable industries, of course. This is a particularly sensitive choice on Blair's part, as many South African communities are currently involved in seeking compensation from Shell and BP following leaks from an oil refinery. Fay is also a director of Weir Group Plc., whose subsidiary, Weir Pumps, has been implicated in human rights abuses and genocide in Sudan.

And last, but certainly not least on Blair's stunning list of eco-warriors, is Sir Robert Wilson, executive chairman of mining company Rio Tinto. As the world's largest mining conglomerate, Rio Tinto has destroyed ecosystems the world over and is currently the focus of one of Australia's highest profile environmental rows ever. The company's plans to mine uranium in one of the planet's most valuable wildlife sites - Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Site - has sparked protests that have led to more than 500 arrests.

Speaking sensitively about environmental issues in underdeveloped countries, Hugh Leggat, a Rio Tinto spokeman, has remarked: "When you get there, you can find the locals have chopped all the trees down. So perhaps it would be advantageous to allow in a mining firm which could then in return promise to do regeneration work." Cross your heart and hope to die, Mr. Leggat? But, as Leggatt has pointed out, "We are already just about the most regulated industry in the world." Apparently he doesn't remember his company's brilliant track record in Bougainville.

Deadbeat Delagates

With a group of delegates like this, one might wonder just what kind of an environmental conference Blair's going to? But at the heart of Blair's seemingly contradictory delegate choices lurks his pet project - public-private partnerships. He, along with many other Western governments, seems to think that by inviting reckless corporations to the party and allowing them to control things like water, energy, and forests, they will then start to behave sensibly, protect these crucial resources, and sustainable development will naturally follow.

But the craziest part is this - even if corporations weren't in the thick of the decision-making process, it would still be a bogus summit. Why? Because none of the agreements that the involved parties sign will be legally binding. Legal regulations (covering such issues as human rights and the environment) have been dropped in favour of voluntary codes. The draft plan now calls only for the "promotion of corporate accountability and responsibility and the exchange of best practices." Believing in the actual existence of "corporate accountability and responsibility," the powers that be have decided that voluntary self-regulation is all that's needed to fix the environmental problems caused by free trade. As George Monbiot says, "To defend the world from the destruction brokered by multinational capital, governments will tie a ribbon round it and hand it to multinational capital."

- SchNEWS  (23rd August 2002)

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revised 18 November 2005