TCS Daily


By James K. Glassman - March 4, 2003 12:00 AM

In what Britain's Evening Standard newspaper called "guerilla attacks," anti-war protesters from Greenpeace, the radical environmental group, closed 119 Esso gas stations in London and its suburbs last week, tying up nozzles and switching off electricity to pumps. They also used a truck to block the entrance to the company's headquarters and climbed up on the building's glass roof. In all, 76 were arrested.

The Greenpeace website gloated that its "activists in the UK severely disrupted the operation of the world's most powerful company, Exxon Mobil," parent of Esso, and the company "sent its staff home in response."

The ugly demonstration was the latest effort by Greenpeace to regain the offensive after humiliating defeats at the last two global environmental conferences, the Earth Summit at Johannesburg in August and COP-8 in New Delhi in October.

At both of those United Nations meetings, the world's poorest countries sided with the United States in rejecting new rules and targets on energy use that would have retarded global economic growth.

Now, Greenpeace is trying a different approach. The group is attempting to exploit the impending conflict with Iraq by claiming that U.S. oil companies have somehow persuaded George Bush to go to war so that the company can get access to Iraqi oil. The logic here is a little hard to follow, but, apparently, according to Anita Goldsmith of Greenpeace, "No company has done more to fuel the crisis than [President Bush's] paymasters at Esso. They have spent millions keeping the U.S. hooked on oil... and fighting international action on climate change."

Actually, the U.S. Senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change three and a half years before Bush was elected president. They voted unanimously not to approve such a treaty, whose severe restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, would have cost the U.S. an estimated $300 billion a year or more and severely damaged the economies of poorer countries as well. Wisely, Bill Clinton never submitted the treaty for ratification, and George Bush later declared it "fatally flawed."

But the Greenpeace folks know all that. The aim of their campaign is not to change minds through rational discourse but to shift the battleground after a rout. Their mistake is that they have failed to choose a properly docile corporate target. Just last month, for instance, ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit in Luxembourg seeking damages for a demonstration in which 600 Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the country's 28 Esso stations, shutting them down for 14 hours.

Greenpeace is more accustomed to dealing with corporations it can bully and co-opt. When I was in Johannesburg in August, I watched with amazement as Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development - an organization that includes 160 giant corporations, ranging from AOL Time Warner to BP to Zurich Financial - shared the stage with Remi Parmentier of Greenpeace in a joint press conference to urge governments to ratify and implement the Kyoto agreement.

Greenpeace is not alone, of course, in claming that oil and Iraq are closely linked. But even Greenpeace's own position paper on Exxon Mobil, "The Tiger in the Tanks," admits there are subtleties involved: "Only time will tell which oil company will benefit most from a war with Iraq.... U.S. oil companies are only likely to benefit if Bush secures a regime change in Iraq, whereas a peaceful resolution is likely to leave French, Russian and Chinese oil companies as the main winners."

Of course, another way to put this is that the French, Russian and Chinese oil companies stand to benefit if a brutal dictator who has already invaded two of his neighbors, killed dissenters, used chemical weapons, and failed to abide by 16 U.N. resolutions remains in power.

But there is no guarantee that ExxonMobil or any other U.S.-based company will be pumping oil in Iraq after Saddam Hussein is gone. Just last week, according to the Washington Post, TotalFinaElf, S.A., which is France's principal oil company, said that "its knowledge of the oil fields and its contacts with Iraqi officials would overcome any hostility it might face from a new regime in Baghdad because of the French government's resistance to a U.S.-led invasion." Perhaps so. No one knows.

The post-war Iraq oil situation is complex and fluid, like hydrocarbons themselves. Consider that Iraq produced 2.9 million barrels of oil per day last year, down from a peak of 3.5 million in 1979. Iraq's oil fields are a mess, but imagine that in two years, Iraq can produce 4 million barrels or more. Now imagine that you run an oil company. Is it good for you to have that extra 1.1 million barrels of supply a day on the open market? Not according to the most basic rule of economics: more supply means lower prices.

But accept the Greenpeace argument that America is hooked on oil and that Bush is a puppet of the oilmasters. Why go to war with Iraq? Why not simply drill in parts of the United States that are now off-limits, or why not simply lift the sanctions on Iraq and then America could buy as much oil as it wanted from Saddam?

Such nuances are lost on Greenpeace. The activists are not really out to limit greenhouse gas emissions or replace coal-fired plants with windmills. They are promoting a radical, anti-American, anti-capitalist political agenda.

If Greenpeace truly places the environment over ideology, why does it coddle the worst polluter the world has ever seen? I am speaking, of course, of Saddam Hussein, who, faced with defeat in 1991, set fire to 613 oil wells in Kuwait, the country he invaded. An extensive study by Geneva-based Green Cross International found that 60 million barrels of oil were released in the desert, forming 246 oil lakes, covering a surface of 49 square kilometers. "The smoke and soot contaminated 953 square kilometers of desert" and soiled 800 miles of coastline. "The amount of oil released was...twice as large as the previous world record oil spill" - and 20 times as large as the Valdez spill in Alaska.

One would think that Greenpeace would be leading the first armored column into Baghdad to bring history's number-one eco-criminal to justice.

Instead, Greenpeace sees the imminent war as a different kind of opportunity - to try to revive a movement that has lost its momentum. And Greenpeace is not alone. Friends of the Earth has been running a full-page newspaper ad with a photograph of a nuclear power plant and the headline, "Terrorist Target! Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood?"

The truth is that radical environmentalists have a big problem. They have been unable to respond effectively to a powerful argument that bloomed in Johannesburg eight months ago. It is that people who live in poverty are naturally focused on the day-to-day demands of food, shelter and clothing. Environmental health is a luxury they can afford only after they have achieved those basic needs. As the late Indian leader Indira Ghandi put it, "Poverty is the worst polluter."

Academic research shows clearly that economic progress leads to environmental progress. So, with three-quarters of the world still poor, the best way to clean up air and water is to help them get richer.

How? Expand energy resources. Energy is the key to accelerating economic growth, especially for less-developed nations.

There's no reason to be ashamed to admit that, with the liberation of Iraq from Saddam, more energy, at lower prices, will reach more people around the world. That's not the reason to fight in Iraq, but it will be one of the beneficial consequences.

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