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Monday, August 31, 2009

Email to the board of BP on Tar Sands

Tar Sands - before and after

Dear Sirs,
I have recently returned from a presentation by the Cree aboriginal group at Climate Camp. You may not be aware that these are the indigenous people of Canada whose impoverished lives you will finally destroy with the tar sands development projects that you are about to commence. You may also not be aware that these people have inhabited this land sustainably for 12,000 years. You may not be aware that the water supply of these people is now massively polluted, their traditional hunting and fishing grounds have been destroyed, and they face premature death by a series of cancers.
You may also not be aware that the tar sands that you now seek to exploit will need more water, produce even more polluted lakes, create massive amounts of CO2, and will result in the wholesale conversion of Canada’s ancient and bio-diverse forests and fauna into a poisonous wasteland.
Or more likely, you are aware of all these facts, but you deliberately ignore them as you scrape the bottom of the world’s barrel for its remaining oil in conscious defiance of runaway climate change. If you are aware, I would suggest that you read your history books, especially the ones about the Nuremberg trials. I suggest this, because if you are not prepared to learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. Your problem is that your dilema on tar sands is very much the same uncomfortable one the guards and managers of the concentration camps experienced.
As you are aware when you read your history books, a good concentration camp general was judged on how many inmates he could process, in the same way as you are judged on how much profits you create. Good concentration camp managers enjoyed a good standard of life with their families, in the same way as good oil company managers enjoy a good standard of life with their families. The question of morality is neatly and deliberately removed from the calculations of success in both cases, and the things that determine normality for both are neatly and consciously removed from the decisions to be made at the place of work.
The decision making process for the concentration camp managers and the decision you will make on your tar sands project differs little. You will argue to yourself that you are working for the benefit of your community and that the benefits of your action will outweigh the consequences, irrespective of the evidence placed in front of you. In the same way the concentration camp manager was able to rationalise that his actions would further the fortunes of the Fatherland, irrespective of the evidence placed in front of him. In both cases, you and the concentration camp manager are insulated from the effects of the decisions by the enormous power held. No concentration camp manager lived in squalor with the prisoners and you will not have to live amongst the Cree people in a poisoned land.
Then the thought comes of if not me, it will be someone else. So you will argue that if you do not develop the tar sands some other company will do so, just as the guards rationalised that if it was not them operating the camps someone else would. This moral ambivalence leads to a race to the bottom. As you make your decision on the tar sands, I ask you to consider the scenario of what would happen if the guards and managers at Auschwitz came together with the prisoners and destroyed the camp. Would this be a mere footnote to history, or would it lead to the collapse of the principles of Nazism? I would suggest it would lead to the collapse of an evil structure. Even if it did not, it would provide hope to many, without which there absolutely can be no future.
But the parallels are not limited to the mere removal of morals and go down to the finer levels of detail, because as you read the history of the camps you will see more disturbingly close similarities, especially if you read Primo Levi’s book, The Drowned and the Saved. Primo Levi talks about how the horrific task of forcing the prisoners into the gas chambers was subcontracted to the Kapos. In case you do not read history, Kapos were prisoners, often Jews who operated the chambers; they got the living in and cleaned the dead out in exchange for a few extra privileges, which was normally a short extension to their life. None of them enjoyed this task and they did it because the task was too awful for the camp managers. I ask you now to consider the plight of the Cree people who have to work in your open cast mines and be complicit in the destruction of their own environment because the oil industry’s destruction of their environment has given them no choice but to cooperate with their destroyers. Like the Kapos, they are tasked with converting their living forests into dead zones. By doing this they get the reward of being able to live in their homelands for a short time longer, but only in the knowledge that the death of their community is made more certain by their actions. Like the Kapos, none of them enjoy this and do it because you and your colleagues do not have the courage to kill the forest and ecosystem with your own hands. You may want to explain were the moral difference lies between the Cree people being forced to work in your extraction processes and the Kapos being forced to operate the gas chambers.
Your history books will tell you how the languages in the German Camps and Russian Archipelagos were brutalised and subverted to reflect the environment, for example prisoners who were about to die were being “deloused,” in a count there could only be “42 prisoners,” not 42 men or women. In the same way, you might want to consider the language of the oil industry in Canada. The fertile soil, abundant in life which you must remove, is degraded to “overburden.” The project is described as a “Tar Sand Development,” when in reality the project is concerned with the destruction of mankind, not development of any kind.
Fundamentally, the only differences between the concentration camps manager and yourself, is that you are operating on a bigger scale of human destruction, you are not as well organised but do a better job of hiding your intentions. Rather reassuringly for you, justice is handed out by the victors, but if you succeed with your development, there will be no victors to dispense justice.
I leave you with the thoughts of Hoss, the commander of Aushwitz, who said, “My conscience compels me to make the following declaration. In the solitude of my prison cell I have come to the bitter recognition that I have sinned gravely against humanity. As Commandant of Auschwitz I was responsible for carrying out part of the cruel plans of the 'Third Reich' for human destruction. In so doing I have inflicted terrible wounds on humanity. I caused unspeakable suffering for the Polish people in particular. I am to pay for this with my life. May the Lord God forgive one day what I have done.
If you proceed with the tar sands project, you will be condemned to suffer similar thoughts of complicity with mass destruction.
This email will appear on my blog,
Kevin Lister
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