Ian Willmore ianw at
Fri Aug 16 07:06:42 MDT 2002

> Thought you folks might like this. By me, from Observer Online (


Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are the boss of a great big US
oil company – Exxon Mobil perhaps.

There’s an Earth Summit coming up. World leaders are meeting in Johannesburg at
the end of August to talk about what’s happening to the planet. There will be
discussions about corporate behaviour and about climate change. This could be
bad news for one of the world’s greatest polluters, particularly if any
international action is actually agreed. So, you really would prefer the whole
thing to be a useless talking shop.

Fortunately you and your company have friends in high places, and particularly
in the White House. So you could just pick up the phone and make your views
known. But that’s not very subtle, is it? And there are loads of annoying little
campaigners running around out there trying to organise a boycott of your
company’s products because of your previous attempts to scupper the Kyoto
climate treaty. You’ve also been denying that you do anything as sordid as
direct political funding of Presidential candidates. So let’s have a little

What to do? Well, it’s a much easier problem to solve than you might first
think. There are dozens of right-wing, gun-slinging, free enterprise, Republican
think tanks and pressure groups out there. So let’s fund them. And then let’s
leave them to give George W Bush his marching orders.

This week, Friends of the Earth was sent a copy of a letter to Bush from no less
than 31 groups and individuals, demanding that he not attend the Earth Summit,
and calling on him to ensure that his negotiators prevent any progress on
climate change. Most of the groups are leading national conservative pressure
groups. Others are key Texas political lobbies – the “Young Conservatives of
Texas” for example.

The letter, dated August 2nd, says “we applaud your decision not to attend the
Summit in person 
 Even more than the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the
Johannesburg Summit will provide a global media stage for many of the most
irresponsible and destructive elements involved in critical international
economic and environmental issues. Your presence would only help to publicize
and make more credible various anti-freedom, anti-people, anti-globalization,
and anti-Western agendas.”

 It also claims that “the least important global environmental issue is
potential global warming and we hope that your negotiators at Johannesburg can
keep it off the table and out of the spotlight.”

Are these groups all funded by eager US citizens, determined to keep the world
warming and the oil companies in hog heaven? Well, no. We need to look a little
deeper into where these groups get their money. So we go to Exxon Mobil’s very
own website - -
which helpfully lists the company’s donations to political causes in 2001.

There we find seven of the groups listed in the Bush letter. The Competitive
Enterprise Institute - $280,000. The American Enterprise Institute - $230,000.
The Heartland Institute - $90,000. The Atlas Economic Research Foundation -
$150,000. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow - $35,000. The Capital
Research Center - $25,000. The National Center for Policy Analysis - $20,000.
Many of these groups have long been active in trying to frustrate progress on
tackling man-made climate change and other global environmental crises. For
example, the CFACT sent fifty “trained” Republican students to the Bonn climate
talks in 2001 to demonstrate against the Kyoto Treaty. The AERF promotes and
supports the work of leading US climate sceptic S Fred Singer.

So you’ve splashed out $830,000, but in return you have an Administration
determined to prevent any real progress at the Earth Summit, which given that
you are Exxon has got to be a good deal. And provided no-one puts two and two
together it’s all been done without the public ever catching on. Corporate
accountability, not.

Meanwhile the UK Government has also spun itself in ever diminishing circles
over the Summit. Tony Blair and John Prescott want to be seen as world leaders
on sustainable development. And to be fair, the UK has played a useful role in
past talks on climate change and debt relief. But on the other hand, the Summit
doesn’t seem to be headed for success. And Mr Blair is highly allergic to any
association with failure – it brings out a rash of sentences without any verbs.

So daft political games are played with the UK delegation. The best informed and
most effective minister on these issues – Michael Meacher - is first chopped off
the list and then put back on when the green lobby begins to make powerful
squawking noises. First it seems that this dastardly act was done by the Deputy
Prime Minister – Alistair Campbell. Then it emerges that it was actually Mr
Blair all along. Meanwhile, Clare Short seizes the moment to proclaim that the
Summit is not about the environment at all (!) but about sustainable
development, obviously believing that this is something completely different.
And Mr Blair, apparently anxious to spend as little time with Mr Meacher as he
can, decides to jet in, make a quick speech, pose for a photo, and then leave as
fast as possible.

The problem with the Earth Summit, apart from the utter inadequacy of many of
the leading politicians involved, is the sheer range and scale of the issues.
Start with poverty and inequality. In 1960, the top 20 per cent of the world's
population were 30 times richer than the poorest 20 per cent. By 1997, they were
74 times richer. .8 billion people - nearly half the world's population - live
on less than US$2 a day, Then there is corporate power - in 1997, the five
largest companies in the world had combined sales that were greater than the
combined incomes of the world's 46 poorest countries. Add in forestry - between
1980 and 1995 the extent of the world’s forests decreased by an area roughly the
size of Mexico; water – up to 30,000 people die each day from water-related
diseases and more than a billion people lack adequate clean water supplies; AIDS
– which is ravaging the entire continent of Africa; and of course international
debt and the destructive behaviour of the IMF and World Bank. The world’s
economy has outrun the capacity of states and international institutions to
regulate it. That’s bad news for all of us.

It’s easy to see why two weeks of a Summit might not be enough to make real
progress, even if George Bush did not resemble a genetically modified amalgam of
the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion from the Wizard of Oz (in that he lacks a heart,
a brain and courage too). And it’s easy to see why the media may simply decide
that the whole thing is a giant and pointless waste of air. But remember, that’s
what Exxon want us to think. They paid good money to wreck the Earth Summit and
they don’t want ordinary punters like us demanding that our politicians stop
posturing and start tackling some of the greatest threats to our common home.


(John Buchan: 'Greenmantle')

The Prussian General Gebhard von Blucher - who won the battle of Waterloo for
Wellington and the Allies by his timely arrival on the field - later went a bit
bonkers. Apparently he thought he had been made pregnant by a French Grenadier
and would give birth to an elephant.

Which must have hurt.


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