Global Bushwhacking

By Mark Lynas, 10 September 2001

Mark Lynas thinks the world may have crashed into an accidental environmental hero. And that the political job his heroism calls for is suitably monumental


No environmentalist will tell you this openly. It’s something whispered behind banners at marches or muttered over a quiet pint afterwards, but never, ever, declared in a speech or at a press conference. So what is this little secret? That greens are actually saying: ‘Thank God for George W. Bush.’

Dubbya could turn out to have been a major strategic mistake by the mega-corporations who run America, and by extension the world. Suddenly it has become all too obvious that the supposedly democratic government of the world’s most powerful country is little more than the administrative arm of big business.

Take the issue of climate change. Despite being without doubt the foremost threat to planetary survival, it has been slow to take off as a campaigning issue. That’s not surprising – we all use cars, heating and aeroplanes. You can’t campaign against your own lifestyle. Better to keep your head down and remain part of a society in denial.

Then along came George Bush. Who better to unite us in a protest movement against climate change than the man who made his career in the oil industry, and who was appointed to represent their interests in government? So Bush became the new hate-figure, the icon of evil for a campaign that so desperately needed an enemy. His repudiation of the Kyoto treaty was a much-needed boost – where Clinton obfuscated, Bush simply stuck two fingers up at the whole thing. A vigil was launched outside the US embassy in London, and protest marches and demonstrations have begun to snowball.

Just as important, targeting Bush also means targeting the corporations who backed him. Esso (ExxonMobil in the US) top the list. Their CEO Lee Raymond said last year: ‘We do not now have sufficient scientific understanding of climate change to... justify drastic measures.’ Drastic measures such as, one might add, endangering Esso’s continuing position as one of the most profitable companies in the world. Esso raked in £12 billion last year, the vast majority in oil revenues.

In contrast, Shell and BP look like good guys, and are frequently cited as such by industry-friendly green spokespeople like Jonathon Porritt. BP’s recent ‘Beyond Petroleum’ rebranding was a clever move to capture this wave of public sentiment. Both Shell and BP have made many of their investments in non-polluting renewable energy sources. But you can’t buck the market, and a corporation’s ultimate allegiance is to its shareholders, not the public. And the market says that oil is still vastly more profitable than any other business – BP made nearly £10 billion profit during 2000, and Shell pulled in a similar figure. Unsurprisingly, BP still plans to invest 50 times more money over the next three years in oil exploration and production than in renewables.

The simple truth is this. If we want to save the planet, we’ve got to phase out fossil fuels completely. Oil, coal and gas have all got to go, probably within a timescale of ten to twenty years to prevent dangerous global warming. By implication, companies which depend on the production, manufacture or use of fossil fuels (everything from car to energy utilities) will also have to be phased out or converted ‘swords into ploughshares’-style. Of course the corporations will fight tooth and nail, as they have been doing against climate change efforts so far. In order to succeed, we’ll not only have to destroy corporate power, but also rebuild real democracy on its ashes.

Mark Lynas <marklynas AT> is an author and journalist specialising in environmental issues. He is currently writing a book about the human impacts of climate change Stop Esso []Sane BP []Corporate Watch []