Friday, July 06, 2012

Nature's Guardians?

Rio+20 can easily be dismissed as a farce. As heads of state and environmentalists were gathering in Rio, the global petroleum giant Shell was finalising preparations for oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. President Obama has fast-tracked Shell's drilling permits, going beyond even George W Bush's attempts to sell the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil.

Shell's record is worse than bad. In the Niger Delta the company has spilled over 400 million gallons (1.51 billion litres) of oil, and toxic gas flaring has contaminated an area half the size of Florida. Shell has repeatedly been taken to court for devastating local communities with oil spills, has admitted that they may have funded warlords, and has failed to meet both international environmental standards and local Nigeria legislation regulating its activities. Nobody knows how to respond to a spill below the Arctic ice, and there is no infrastructure for thousands of miles capable to handle such accidents.

Proposals that the region be made a global sanctuary and that oil drilling and unsustainable fishing be banned from Arctic waters were ignored. Indeed, one of the more hypocritical moments at Rio+20 came when Venezuela sided with and publicly supported the American policy on ocean politics and joined Russia and Japan in an unholy alliance to block the launch of the Oceans Rescue Plan that successfully postponed a global agreement on High Seas Biodiversity.

And South Korea has just announced it proposes to resume whale hunting "under regulations permitting hunting for scientific research" although South Korea's own statement suggests that pressure is coming from their fishermen who say whales are eating too many fish and lowering their catches. The Korean "whales eat fish" argument is one of the most easily debunked. 

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