Shell v. Wiwa

Posted by christian — 22 May 2009 at 4:55pm - Comments

On Wednesday, in New York, Shell are being brought to trial for human rights abuses in Nigeria - human rights abuses which from the point of view of the court will have happened a long time ago, and a long way away. Crimes committed, if you like, at a distance.

Specifically, Shell are charged with complicity in the murder of the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the Nigerian military along with 8 colleagues for his role in peacefully campaigning against the human rights abuses and environmental degradation associated with the corporation's Nigerian operations.

Earlier this week, a report came out from Oil Change International, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and PLATFORM's Remember Saro-Wiwa project. It examined the 'carbon intensity' of the oil company, and concluded that Shell, Europe's biggest oil company, is also the world's most carbon intensive.

These two stories are a salient reminder that the abstract numbers associated with carbon emissions and massive profits always have a human cost associated with them. In the world of policy, money and science, we can too easily forget that the fossil fuel industry bears a heavy responsibility both for the human impacts of climate change - displaced people, scarcer resources, deteriorating health - and also for more direct interventions which ruin (or end) people's lives.

For corporations like Shell, the bottom line is always about making money, and don't let any amount of slick public relations work persuade you otherwise. Some of the time - when their adverts talk about 'reducing carbon emissions', or 'new technologies' they almost get away with their PR offensive and make us forget the human cost of doing business. There's the danger that we fall into thinking about environmental damages in the abstract - and then maybe the choice to flare gas in Nigeria doesn't immediately resonate as something which will lead to needless deaths across the world from the emissions causing climate or the pollution impacting on local communities in the Niger Delta.

Shell make $1.5 million dollars an hour. They have spreadsheets and business plans that tell them how to make that much money, and hidden in those spreadsheets is the reality of the situation - it's more profitable for them to trash the planet and impose the human cost, whether through gas flaring in Nigeria or tar sands extraction in Canada.

Today, along with the other groups who are part of the Remember Saro-Wiwa campaign, we put an advert in the Guardian reminding Shell that the world will be watching in New York next week - and that their huge profits come with a very real cost.

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About Christian Hunt


Sea ice geek, former web editor at GP.

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