Get a FREE Issue of Earth Island Journal
Sign up for our no-risk offer today.

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News

Latest News

Spied On by BP

The aim of covert corporate strategy is not to win an argument, but to contain, intimidate and ultimately eliminate opposition

I discovered recently that I was being spied on by BP.

After a few years of increasingly intense activism targeting the company’s controversial entry into the tar sands, its abuse of Indigenous rights and its greenwash-soaked sponsorship of cultural institutions, I started to wonder if BP might be monitoring me.

demo against BP in LondonPhoto by fotdmike/Flickr The author's activism against BP’s interests in Canada's tar sands oil was one of the reasons the company began spying on her.

So I submitted a ‘Subject Access Request’, requiring the company to send me all its files that mentioned me by name. The thick dossier of heavily redacted internal emails and documents I received made for surprising, unsettling, and sometimes hilarious reading. It also provided a fascinating insight into some of the ways corporations are monitoring activists they see as threatening to their reputations.

The first time I appear to have blighted BP’s radar was when I wrote an article for New Internationalist in 2010 about the campaign to shut down the Canadian tar sands.

The world’s most destructive oil extraction project contains enough greenhouse gas to tip the world into irreversible climate change. The oil companies’ sinister plot to dig up every last ounce of planet-cooking bitumen, I argued, had to be foiled. I had co-founded a campaign group — the UK Tar Sands Network — and was working with frontline Indigenous communities in the Alberta tar sands ‘sacrifice zone’ to challenge the major British companies involved in the industry – namely BP and Shell.

In the article, I explained how I had got into conversation with then-head of BP UK Peter Mather at a graduate recruitment event after a climate action group had disrupted it. Having perhaps glugged one too many glasses of complimentary Chardonnay, he boasted about what a fine and responsible company he worked for. I quoted him making the stunningly mendacious claim that ‘if local Indigenous communities tell us they don’t want the Sunrise Project [BP’s first foray into tar sands extraction], then of course we won’t do it.’

No matter how small we may feel in the face of such corporate might, we are still perceived as dangerous

Soon afterwards, of course, BP did the opposite. It swept aside the growing local opposition and greedily staked its claim to a thick slice of Alberta’s oil-drenched pie.

What I never expected to discover …more

(2) Comments

8 Tips to Reduce Your Waste This Thanksgiving

Fill bellies instead of landfills!

The holiday season is here, so let’s remember that while we’re filling our bellies this Thanksgiving, we shouldn’t be filling landfills with perfectly good food! Here are a few tips on how we can move towards a zero waste holiday.

Thanksgiving food tablePhoto by Satya MurthyHope you have a zero waste holiday!

1) Bring to-go containers. Ask your dinner guests to bring a tupperware and send them home with some leftovers. This way, you won’t be stuck with a month’s worth of food, and everyone gets to enjoy an extra slice of pumpkin pie.

2) Your freezer is your friend. Freeze leftovers and enjoy a nice treat next month when you want a delicious meal. Read more about how to store your leftovers and how long they will last here.

3) Plan out your meal. Sounds simple, but holiday stress is usually just the thing to prompt us to unnecessarily triple every recipe for fear of running out. Try to make only what you need, wasting food not only has an extreme environmental impact, but can cause you to blow your budget or over eat as well. Read some tips about how to shop smart, store food properly, and use up some food scraps on Food Shift’s reduce your waste page.

to-go food containers Bring to-go containers

4) Repurpose your leftovers. Check out some recipes that will help you use up those leftovers from Food Network and Martha Stewart.

5) Go zero waste. Aside from wasted food, try to keep other resources out of the waste stream too. The EPA has a great list of tips that includes opting for reusable dishes and napkins and washing and reusing jars and containers.

6) Compost your food scraps. Directing scraps away from landfills reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Read more about the environmental impacts of food waste here.

7) Reach out to your community! Consider giving your leftovers away to someone who may be in need of extra food. One in five people in the U.S. don’t have adequate access to food, so consider bringing your extra food to a friend, neighbor, or make a post about your surplus food on freecycle, an online sharing platform.

food donation …<a href='' title='continue reading 8 Tips to Reduce Your Waste This Thanksgiving'>more</a></li></ul></p>
<p class=by Emily Rehberger – November 27, 2014

(0) Comments

When A River Doesn’t Run Through It

Pete McBride talks about his work on the Colorado River and the Ganges

Photographer and filmmaker Pete McBride is a lover of rivers. His work has focused on rivers around the world, including the Ganges in India and the Navua River in the Fijian headlands. In the United States, McBride’s photos and films have centered on the Colorado River, reminding us that the entire Southwest depends upon the Colorado River watershed.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto by Pete McBride Fifty miles south of the US–Mexico border, the Colorado River Delta and its once-rich estuary wetlands — reduced by 95 percent since the river was restricted by dams — are now as parched as the surrounding Sonoran Desert.

McBride started off his career as a writer-adventurer who wanted to be a photographer. Connecting with like-minded souls, he ended up as the photographer for an epic re-creation of the first flight from London to Cape Town in the Silver Queen, a replica of a Vimy plane from the 1930s. Although National Geographic initially declined to support the project, the magazine bought the story after seeing photographs of the adventure, and a McBride image ended up on the magazine’s cover. Looking at those canvas covered wings I asked McBride if it was scary. “Absolutely,” he answered without hesitation. But that was the story that kicked off his career.

McBride’s connection with rivers stems from his childhood. He grew up on a Colorado cattle ranch. “I just think the river story found me,” he says. This tie to the Colorado River lead to the publication of his 2010 photography book, The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict. The book has had an outsized impact on the environmental community, and has helped draw attention to the grave implications of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which divvied up water rights along the Colorado River.

Filmmaker and activist Jamie Redford credits McBride’s book with helping to drive his transition from outdoor enthusiast to thoughtful and analytical activist and environmental filmmaker. After reading the book, he went on to make Watershed, the 2013 documentary which looks at the Colorado River, and posits some solutions to the soul-crushing death of the Colorado River Delta, including trying to maintain a small, but steady supply of water to the delta by purchasing water rights from willing sellers in the Mexicali Valley via the Raise the River campaign.   

Colorado Rivermore

(0) Comments

TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline Faces Stiff Opposition at Home

With public protests on the rise, Ontario and Quebec to work together to ensure climate change is addressed before project is approved

Although most of the news involving oil pipelines in Canada is focused on the recent protests and arrests in British Columbia, and the ongoing battle over the Keystone XL pipeline, there is a growing movement in Eastern Canada centered on the province of Quebec opposing another massive project — the Energy East Pipeline.

pipeline protest in CanadaPhoto by Mark KlotzCanadia is witnessing increasing public opposition to tar sands oil extraction and transport from the Athabasca Basin.The Energy East pipeline is seen by some as an alternative to Keystone XL.

TransCanada Corporation’s $10.64 billion pipeline project, the largest tar sands pipeline proposed yet, would stretch west to east across Canada, starting from the tar sands mines in Alberta and traversing 2,858 miles across the country to multiple refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick from where the oil would be shipped out to Asia via new marine terminals in each of these provinces.

Much of the opposition to the project is over a deep-water terminal proposed for the tiny town of Cacouna, Quebec. Researches have long warned of the threat the Energy East project poses to the local beluga whale population. The terminal, located in the gulf of the St. Lawrence River, is located in the nursing grounds of the beluga, which is recognized by the province as an endangered species. And, although a court injunction forced a temporary stoppage, exploratory work is now ongoing, as is the grassroots efforts to oppose the project.

In October, thousands marched through the town of Cacouna (population 1,939) to protest the terminal. But, as of Oct. 30, the project became official when TransCanada filed a formal application for the pipeline. Environmental groups including Greenpeace and Environmental Defence Canada are digging in their heels and preparing for a battle with the energy giant, which is also seeking approval of its Keystone XL pipeline running through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.

"Our application outlines how Energy East will be built and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, while generating significant benefits for all Canadians," says Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "We have been out in the field for more than 18 months gathering data, performing environmental studies and engaging with Aboriginal and stakeholder groups in the initial design and planning of the project."

The debate, set …more

(0) Comments

An 85-Year-Old Takes On Big Oil and the Company Burying the Industry’s Dangerous Waste

Lupe Anguiano is working to stop fracking near the beautiful pacific beaches and fertile agricultural fields of her hometown, Oxnard, CA

I’ve come to Oxnard, California to see oil wells but Lupe Anguiano starts by showing me the ocean. “I love the ocean,” she says as we walk a cement path from the parking lot to the sand. “I have a prayer that I composed and I bring salt and then I bless the ocean, asking it to protect its marine life.”

We stand at the threshold of beach and sidewalk and Lupe points to the faint outline on the horizon. Squinting, I realize that the gray hulk is neither boat nor island but an oil production platform. And there are others. On a clearer day I could see beyond them to the prized Channel Islands, of which Anacapa is Lupe’s favorite. “Because of the birds,” she tells me. “One day you’ll come here just to relax and we can take the boat there.”

Lupe Anguiano on a beachPhoto by Sarah Craig/Faces of FrackingAnguiano is a civil rights activist who has worked for more than half a century to improve farmworker and women rights.

Today is not a day that we’ll relax. We are going to explore the oil industry’s onshore infrastructure — drilling rigs, wastewater injection wells, and even a tar sands production facility. The last will leave Lupe gasping for breath, clutching her chest, and me terrified that I’ve just endangered the health of an 85-year-old civil rights hero.

Octogenarian vs. the Oil Industry

Lupe has marked time by the ripeness of fruit. Her childhood summers were spent following California’s harvests. She and her family picked apricots around Oxnard, then headed north to San Jose when the plums were ready, and back south again for walnuts.

For the first eight years of her life, this was the summer ritual, and the rest of the year they lived in Colorado where her father worked for the railroad. But when Lupe was in third grade they moved permanently to California, and settled by her aunt in Saticoy, near Oxnard.

Oxnard, where Lupe lives now, is 60 miles up the coast from Los Angeles. It’s a happy marriage of Pacific beaches and fertile agricultural fields. When Lupe was a kid it was grapevines and groves of lemons and oranges. She still remembers the perfume as she rode her bike from the fields to the beach.

Today you’re more likely to see tomatoes, …more

(0) Comments

Living With the Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill

In Review: The Great Invisible (Documentary)

During a congressional hearing with oil industry honchos following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Exxon Mobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson made a startling — and hair-raising — candid admission: “When these things happen we are not well equipped to handle them… There will be impacts.”

These “impacts” (one of the most Orwellian euphemisms since the Pentagon came up with “collateral damage”) include the spilling of an estimated 176 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico for 57 days after the April 20, 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil-drilling rig operated by BP that killed 11 crewmen and devastated the Gulf’s ecosystem. While many of the aftereffects of the epic, apocalyptic blowout may be invisible to the naked eye, the fireball it caused was visible from 35 miles away.

smoke plumes in the water during the Deepwater Horizon disasterPhoto courtesy of RADiUS-TWC The Great Invisible reveals how the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe has affected the lives of rig workers, oystermen, fishermen and shrimpers of Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi.

Using artfully intercut news clips, archival footage, amateur video, and original interviews, award-winning filmmaker Margaret Brown — who is originally from the Gulf Coast — weaves a terrifying tapestry in The Great Invisible, which reveals how the catastrophe has affected the lives of rig workers, oystermen, fishermen and shrimpers of Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi. The film also details the petroleum industry’s response (or lack of) to the calamity and its aftermath. The Great Invisible’s executive producers are Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, who also produced An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 climate change documentary featuring Al Gore that scored Academy Awards, a Grammy and the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 92-minute documentary’s most harrowing on camera interviews are with survivors of the big blast — roustabout Stephen Stone, who reportedly suffers from PTSD, and the rig’s chief engineer Douglas Harold Brown, who had accompanied the ship to the Gulf from South Korea, where it was built in 2001.

Regretting that he was a loyal cog in the oil industry’s wheel for so long, Brown — who attempted to commit suicide following the debacle — admits “I feel guilty because I played along.” While Stone — who has been deeply traumatized by the blast and subsequent shabby treatment by the industry -- testifies  before Congress, even though he is heavily …more

(1) Comments

Efforts to Curb Destructive Palm Oil Plantations Brings Together Strange Bedfellows

Will corporations and activists join forces to end deforestation in Indonesia?

September brought good news for the world’s forests with the unveiling of the New York Declaration on Forests at the UN Climate Summit. The Declaration, which pledges to end global deforestation by 2030, was signed by 130 governments, including the US, Germany, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps most significantly, it was also backed by commitments from 40 major food corporations to eliminate palm oil grown on deforested land from their supply chains.

Deforestation in IndonesiaPhoto by Rainforest Action Network An estimated 80 percent of forest destruction in Indonesia between 2000 and 2012 was illegal. Palm plantations were responsible for three-quarters of this illegal deforestation.

That’s a big deal, given that palm oil has been the single largest driver of tropical deforestation in recent years. When the medical establishment deemed trans-fats heart-unhealthy in the mid-1990s, demand for the supposedly more benign palm oil soared, increasing nearly six-fold since the year 2000. Palm oil is now used in nearly half of all foods on supermarket shelves, added to everything from breakfast cereals to margarine to potato chips. It is also an ingredient in shampoo, soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste, and laundry detergents, and is used as a feedstock for biofuels.

Palm oil is cheap. It is the highest yielding oil crop in the world, and the most abundant. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that every hour, an area of rainforest the size of 300 football fields is cleared to make way for new palm oil production — mainly in Indonesia, the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world.

At this breakneck and still accelerating pace, 98 percent of the Indonesian rainforest will be gone by 2022, and along with it one of the greatest remaining biodiversity treasure troves on Earth. The palm oil boom has been a disaster for the orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, the clouded leopard, the pigmy elephant, and countless lesser known endangered species whose homelands are rapidly being converted to large-scale plantations.

It has also been catastrophic for the climate. Indonesia is currently the third largest carbon polluting country in the world, trailing only China and the US. Over 85 percent of the nation’s emissions come from forest destruction, which releases carbon stored in trees and ancient peatland swamps into the atmosphere. …more

(3) Comments

← Recent   Older →

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author


Four issues for just
$10 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

Go Solar with Earth Island Institute!