Rose Marie Berger: The Thing From the Oil Company Board Room

"Skin of Evil" Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Global North and West is addicted to fossilized fuel. Myself included. And we are trying to push our addictions onto the Global South.

Everywhere we look the fossil fuel pushers are in our face, luring us into our next fix.

Not a week after the elections, the American Petroleum Institute launched ads in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina targeting U.S. senators who are raising the issue of climate change; specifically, the ones calling into question oil company subsidies.

The oil and gas companies try seduction (“fighting for jobs”). They try fear (“we are too big to fail”). They accuse us of being unfair to them (“Discriminatory treatment of the oil and gas industry is a bad idea”). They try bullying and slandering.

Even when our court system recently convicted one of them killing (BP convicted of “manslaughter” for the 11 murdered on Gulf Oil spill rigs), they are not stopped.

We can’t unhook ourselves by ourselves. We have to fight the pushers by banding together and taking action through public policy, business, and civil society action.

The board of directors of these six corporations–ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP–will do anything to make money. They are terrorizing our planet. Just ask the folks in Rockaway, NY, the Jersey Shore, and the Caribbean.

Are they “good men”? Upstanding men? Do they love their families? Of course. Do they go to church? Probably. Are they nice to animals? Most likely. Are they perpetrating a great evil of transnational proportions? Yes, they are.

They are like “The Thing From Another World” rising up from under the ice to kill the scientists by altering the temperature in the research station. The Thing requires human blood to survive and reproduce. Ugh.

What do we do about them? How do we help them do what is right and protect ourselves and our earth at the same time?

First, pray for the salvation of their souls. Second, direct our communal action at the corporations’ bottom lines.

Here are three steps:

1. Divest. Start with churches, universities, and towns. For managed portfolios, commit to zero direct investment in fossil fuels. For those who operate through the use of exchange-traded funds, direct your fund managers to bias against fossil fuels. (Here is the targeted list of carbon reserve companies to give your fund manager to set up an bias against investment.) Unity University in Maine is the first academic institution to divest. Vancity Credit Union has also divested.

2. Demand strong carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. Push for an end to oil company subsidies. This fight will be part of the “fiscal cliff” deliberations.

3. Take personal responsibility. Right now there are 11 people in jail in Nacogdoches, Texas, arrested for resisting TransCanada’s takeover of land for the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline. Some of them are being charged with felonies for their nonviolent direct action to stop the mining company that will exponentially increase global warming if allowed to complete its project. What can you do?

The World Bank has just released a blockbuster new report called Turn Down the Heat: Why A 4 Degree Centigrade Warmer World Must Be Avoided. The World Economic Forum, the European Union, and other world bodies will be discussing its content over the next few weeks and months. Read it. Ask your representatives and leaders if they have read it. Stir up some conversation.

“Hope” is part if the DNA of Christians. So is courage. So be bold, my friends, be courageous. Take hope in Christ. Be heartened in the struggle. Remember that because God so loves this world, God gave God’s begotten child. And we are of that lineage and race.–Rose Marie Berger

Video: ‘Thank You’ MTV’s Sway Williams! Obama Speaks on Climate Change


This week MTV’s Sway Williams got President Obama to break the climate silence, asking him a tough question about global warming. Obama says he’s “surprised it didn’t come up in the debates.”

Unfortunately, Obama’s answers are based on trying to get the U.S. to the Copenhagen carbon target, which scientists around the world resoundingly agree are woefully inadequate.

According to UK’s The Guardian, “The pledges made by governments resulting from the Copenhagen climate conference are nowhere near enough to hold global temperatures to the summit’s agreed goal of no more than a 2C rise, researchers have calculated. The results, which are the most rigorous analyses yet made of pledges submitted to the UN …, will increase pressure on rich countries to make far deeper cuts in negotiations over the next year.”

The key climate defense strategy right now is three fold (read more at Why Bill McKibben is the New Noah). If we do these three things, there’s a possibility that we can reverse climate change, restore health to our skies, earth, and oceans, and move forward into a future where our grandkids can not just survive, but thrive.

Here’s the plan (and look for Bill McKibben’s “Do The Math” tour this fall):

1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters. If Americans focus on U.S. companies, then we can be the tipping point for a transnational shift. If you — or the portfolio you influence — own stock, then get rid of it and tell the company why. If you don’t want to divest, then you need to decide now to become a shareholder activist. If you’re not a stockholder, then pressure your faith institutions, universities, and local governments to get out of “planet-killing” profits. This is the economic part of the plan.

2. Push for carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn’t they? The fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas, and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned directly to the public in monthly dividends to individual taxpayers, with limited-to-no government involvement. Australia initiated this legislation in June. We can learn from them. This is the legislative part of the plan.

3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line to stop the mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines that are being built to transport Alberta’s unconventional “tar sands” oil. Scientists around the world say that opening the Alberta tar sands and pumping this non-traditional oil through these pipelines will put the planet on a one-way road to climate disaster. That’s why fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and the Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada is critical. This is the direct action and personal responsibility part of the plan.

Read more about this here.

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Poem: “In the Cross Maker’s Tent” by Jeff Newberry

In response to British Petroleum’s industrial oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I went looking for poetry. I found a great collection over at Poets for Living Waters. Here’s a poem by Jeff Newberry, a Gulf native.

“Recently, I visited my hometown, Port St. Joe, Florida, a former mill town and fishing village on the Gulf Coast, some 35 miles east of Panama City,” writes Jeff.  “I took a long walk one morning down by St. Joseph’s Bay, and looking out over the still green water, I saw where the shallows dropped off into the deeper water of the bay.  It was clear demarcation: visible sand then darkness.  I found the contrast both beautiful and ominous.  Only later did I realize that my thinking about art comes from having grown up by the Gulf of Mexico.  For me, art is like St. Joesph’s Bay.  You can see it, measure it, understand it – up to a point.  Beyond that point is mystery, a place both exciting and dangerous, a place where you lose yourself and become a part of the art itself.”

In the Cross Maker’s Tent
Port St. Joe Seafood Festival

The old woman carved crosses from driftwood,
Displayed them on lattice board, ran balsa
Hands over one as she spoke:  I find the pieces

Each morning, washed up from the bay. Some days,
Webs of seaweed tangle them, but I find the best
Pieces this way:  hidden. I wanted to buy a carving,

Pictured her hands turning the wood, palms like wave-
Polished sea glass.  Did she use a lathe?  Did she plane
Or shave the wood?  How often did she slip & slice

Skin from her palm? Outside, the festival continued:
People drifted by the tent, a steady rhythm of voices,
Like waves stealing sand.  October wind rattled

The tattered canvas.  Bruised clouds churned low
Over St. Joseph’s Bay.  A sudden strobe of lightning.
She gestured west, swirled the air with one lined palm.

Indian summer.   Rain’s coming she said.   Storms, hail.
It’s the heat mixing with the coming cold. I chose
A gray cross with periwinkle inlays, felt the honed-

Down ridges, imagined her finding it after a sleepless
Night, carving it as the sea lay still, a sheet of glass.

Read more of Jeff’s work here.

Video: ‘The Gulf Appears to be Bleeding’

Thanks to Sue Sturgis over at the Institute for Southern Studies for posting  the story of John Wathen and his heart-breaking video of  the oil spill destroying our southern coast as a result of BP criminal negligence.

The Institute for Southern Studies was founded in 1970 by veterans of the civil rights movement and has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region. Sue Sturgis writes:

Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen of Alabama and volunteer pilot Tom Hutchings of SouthWings flew over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday to get a look at the massive oil slick spreading from the site of the BP disaster.

At nine miles out, they began to smell the oil. At 11 miles, they saw a visible sheen on the water. And at mile 87 off the Alabama coast, they reached ground zero of the disaster — what Wathen described as a “red mass of floating goo” as far as the eye can see.

“The Gulf appears to be bleeding,” he said.

“For the first time in my environmental career, I find myself using the word ‘hopeless,'” Wathen continued. “We can’t stop this. There’s no way to prevent this from hitting our shorelines.”

Wathen and Hutchings had no trouble finding their way back to land: “All we had to do was follow the red,” Wathens said. “There was a perfect line of it leading from the rig to the shoreline.”

Here’s the video from that trip, which is also posted to Wathen’s blog dedicated to documenting the disaster:

ISS – ‘The Gulf appears to be bleeding’ (video).