The Biggest Criminal Enterprise in History
Terracide and the Terrarists Destroying the Planet for Record Profits
by Tom Engelhardt
We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
In the case of the terrarists -- and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell -- you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.
Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet.
It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.
How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet
None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while -- thanks in part to the terrarists -- but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.
Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.
The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow. The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore. Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.
They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy -- oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel. In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed. These companies have even begun using climate change itself -- in the form of a melting Arctic -- to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies. With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.
Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet. Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.
Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity. And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale. The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.
And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it. Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed. Each used that time-disconnect as protection. One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product. In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it's also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).
If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)? And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?
The Alternatives That Weren’t
It didn’t have to be this way.
On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East. “To give us energy security,” he announced,
“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun... Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”
It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one. Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.” Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.
Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today? Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.” While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long. In the end, the president's energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.
As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House. (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”) As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description. On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly. One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.
Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined. Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
No one would laugh him out of the room for that. Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough. Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command. More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America. They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.”
If true, this would be the worst, not the best, of news. In a world where what used to pass for good news increasingly guarantees a nightmarish future, energy “independence” of this sort means the extraction of ever more extreme energy, ever more carbon dioxide heading skyward, and ever more planetary damage in our collective future. This was not the only path available to us, or even to Big Oil.
With their staggering profits, they could have decided anywhere along the line that the future they were ensuring was beyond dangerous. They could themselves have led the way with massive investments in genuine alternative energies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, algal, and who knows what else), instead of the exceedingly small-scale ones they made, often for publicity purposes. They could have backed a widespread effort to search for other ways that might, in the decades to come, have offered something close to the energy levels fossil fuels now give us. They could have worked to keep the extreme-energy reserves that turn out to be surprisingly commonplace deep in the Earth.
And we might have had a different world (from which, by the way, they would undoubtedly have profited handsomely). Instead, what we’ve got is the equivalent of a tobacco company situation, but on a planetary scale. To complete the analogy, imagine for a moment that they were planning to produce even more prodigious quantities not of fossil fuels but of cigarettes, knowing what damage they would do to our health. Then imagine that, without exception, everyone on Earth was forced to smoke several packs of them a day.
If that isn’t a terrorist -- or terrarist -- attack of an almost unimaginable sort, what is? If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term?
To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?
© 2013 TomDispatch.com
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. His other most recent book is The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books). Previous books include: The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.
5 Most Horrifying Things About Monsanto—Why You Should Join the Global Movement and Protest on Saturday
Fed up with health concerns, environmental threats and political corruption, a Utah mom organizes a global movement against the biotech giant.
by April M. Short
Fed up with the fact that she has to spend “a small fortune” in order to feed her family things she says “aren’t poisonous,” Tami Canal of Utah has organized a global movement against the giant chemical and seed corporation Monsanto. Monsanto is the conglomerate mastermind behind many of the pesticides and genetically engineered seeds that pervade farm fields around the world. Monsanto produces the world’s top-selling herbicide; 40 percent of US crops contain its genes; it spends millions lobbying the government each year; and several of its factories are now toxic Superfund sites.
Canal, who has a 17-month-old baby and a six-year-old girl, cites concerns over public health, adverse affects on the environment, and political corruption as her motivation to organize against the biotech giant. And her concern has resonated. Protesters around the world have responded to Canal’s call to action, and will amplify their dissatisfaction with the corporation in a “March Against Monsanto” on May 25.
“Not only are they threatening our children and ourselves as well, but also the environment,” Canal says. “The declining bee population has been linked to the pesticides that they use, and that’s just the start. I’ve been reading studies recently that butterflies are starting to disappear, and birds. It’s only a matter of time, it’s pretty much a domino effect.”
What started as one mother’s call to action on a Facebook page has become a movement with more than 400 demonstrations scheduled in 50 countries and 250 cities around the globe. The events are organized online via an open Google Document, where people can find the protest nearest them. The March Against Monsanto Facebook page has received more than 105,000 “likes.” It has reached more than 10,000,000 people in the last week according to its website, which averages over 40,000 visitors per day.
One of the short-term goals of the march, Canal says, is to spread immediate awareness about the offenses Monsanto commits. Another is to inspire people to vote with their dollars by boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that put unsafe products—like genetically modified organisms (GMO) and pesticide-ridden foods—on the market. The effort also advocates for labeling of genetically modified products so consumers can make informed decisions, and demands further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
Canal is particularly interested in drawing attention to what she calls dangerous products that are marketed to children. “Like Kellogg's,” she says. “For example, Froot Loops is 100-percent genetically engineered, and that’s a children's cereal. That’s irresponsible and unacceptable on so many levels.”
The ultimate goal of the march is a complete ban on Monsanto within the US. At least 60 countries worldwide, including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland, have implemented outright bans of Monsanto and its genetic modification of food products.
“I don’t understand why the US isn’t on the forefront of that thinking,” says Canal. “[Monsanto] has a long history of crimes against humanity.”
Here are the five most disturbing reasons you should join the March Against Monsanto:
1. Profiteering poisonous chemical company posing as agribusiness.
Remember the horrors of Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War, when the US military designed a chemical warfare program and used the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange to kill and maim 400,000 people (estimated by the Vietnam government), and ultimately cause birth defects for 500,000 children? Monsanto made that possible.
Monsanto began as a chemical company in 1901 and was responsible for some of the most damaging toxins in US history, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), and dioxin. Consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch (FWW) released a report on APril 3 detailing Monsanto’s role in chemical disasters, Agent Orange, and the first genetically modified plant cell. The report shows that the “feed-the-world” agricultural and life sciences company Monsanto markets itself as today is only a recent development. The majority of Monsanto’s history is involved with heavy industrial chemical production, including the supply of Agent Orange to the US for Vietnam operations from 1962-'71.
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association told Common Dreams, in response to the FWW report:
Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.
Another example, according to the FWW corporate profile, is a Monsanto plant in Sauget, Illinois that produced 99 percent of PCBs until they were banned in 1976. PCBs are carcinogenic and harmful to multiple organs and systems, but they're still illegally dumped into waterways. They accumulate in plants and food crops, as well as fish and other aquatic lifeforms, which enter the human food supply. The Sauget plant is now home to two Superfund sites.
Monsanto’s chemicals continue to impact the world, both inside and outside of the United States, and Monsanto has settled a number of chemical lawsuits in the last couple of years alone. Scientific studies have linked the chemicals in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease, autism and cancer.
Another example of Monsanto’s chemical folly came in February when a French court declared Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of French grain grower, Paul Francois. The farmer suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller in 2004, and blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
AlterNet published an article in April titled, “Exposed: Monsanto’s Chemical War Against Indigenous Hawaiians,” which details a series of protests on the five Hawaiian Islands Monsanto and other biotech companies have turned into the world’s “ground zero” for chemical testing and food engineering.
2. Building a monopoly, putting farmers out of work.
There is nothing more quintessentially American than the independent family farmer; and there is nothing more un-American than stomping out that farmer’s livelihood to bolster your corporate monopoly. Monsanto is attempting this as it sues small farmers out of their livelihoods time and again.
You might have heard about the 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana, Vernon Hugh Bowman, who was ordered in the beginning of May to pay Monsanto $85,000 in damages for using second-generation seeds genetically modified with Monsanto’s pesticide resistant “Roundup Ready,” treatment. He pulled the seeds from the local grain elevator, which is usually used for feed crop, and planted them. The court decided Monsanto’s patent extends even to the offspring of its seeds, and the farmer had violated the company’s patent.
Bowman is by no means the only US farmer to be sent into debt at Monsanto’s hands. Monsanto reported enormous profits from 2012 to shareholders in January, while American farmers filed into Washington, DC to challenge the corporation’s right to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds. Oral arguments began on January 10 before the U.S. Court of Appeals to decide whether to reverse the cases' dismissal last February. The corporation’s total revenue reached $2.94 billion at the end of 2012, and its earnings nearly doubled analysts' projections.
In the article, “Monsanto's Earnings Nearly Double as They Create a Farming Monopoly”—originally published in Al Jazeera and reprinted on AlterNet on January 16—Charlotte Silver outlines how Monsanto has increased the price of the Roundup herbicide and exploiting its patent on transgenic corn, soybean and cotton, to gain control over those agricultural industries in the US, “…effectively squeezing out conventional farmers (those using non-transgenic seeds) and eliminating their capacity to viably participate and compete on the market.” The company also uses its power to coerce seed dealers out of stocking many of its competitor products.
Monsanto was under investigation by the Department of Justice for violating anti-trust laws by practicing anticompetitive activities towards other biotech companies until the end of 2012. The investigation was quietly closed before the end of last year.
Monsanto exerts vast control over the seed industry. It started buying out seed companies as early as 1982. Some of Monsanto’s most significant purchases were Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), Seminis (vegetables) and Holden’s Foundation Seeds (in 1997). Monsanto is unmatched in its tactics for squashing its competition, but the US has not put its antitrust laws into practice to clamp down on the corporate monopoly it's forming.
3. Controlling the food, privatizing the water.
Half of the Earth’s population will live in an area with significant water stress by 2030, according to estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Corporations like Monsanto (along with Royal Dutch Shell and Nestle) are vying for a future in which free water supply is a thing of the past, and private companies control public water sources.
According to a government report titled " Intelligence Community Assessment; Global Water Security," by 2025, the world's population will likely exceed 8 billion people, and the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than sustainable water supplies available, with water needs of around 6,900 billion cubic meters due to population growth.
Private corporations already own 5 percent of the world's fresh water. Billionaires and companies, including Monsanto, are purchasing the rights to groundwater and aquifers. In an even more ominous twist, Monsanto is accused of dumping its plethora of toxic chemicals, including PCBs, dioxin and glyophosate (Roundup) into the water supply of various nations worldwide. Then, seeing a profitable market niche, it has begun privatizing those water sources it polluted, filtering the water, and selling it back to the public.
4. Running the FDA, writing its own protection laws.
Ex-Monsanto executives run the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the American public.
This obvious conflict of interest could explain the lack of government-led research on the long-term effects of GM products. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president together passed the law that has been dubbed “Monsanto Protection Act.” Among other things, the new law bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.
The pro-Monsanto “Farmer Assurance Provision, Section 735,” rider was quietly slipped into Agricultural Appropriations provisions of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution spending bill, designed to avert a federal government shutdown. It states that the department of agriculture “shall, notwithstanding any other provisions of law, immediately grant temporary permits to continue using the [GE] seed at the request of a farmer or producer [Monsanto].”
Obama signed the law on March 29. It allows the agribusiness giant to promote and plant GMO and GE seeds free from any judicial litigation that might deem such crops unsafe. Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, Section 735 allows the seeds to be planted once the USDA approves them.
Public health lawyer Michele Simon told the New York Daily News the Senate bill requires the USDA to “ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically mengineered crops.”
5. Continuing environmental nightmares.
As Tami Canal points out, studies have linked Monsanto and other biotech conglomerates to the decline of bee colonies in the US and abroad.
Their environmental blunders don’t stop there. In 2002 the Washington Post published a piece titled “ Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution,” outlining the corporation’s pollution of an Alabama town with toxic PCBs for decades without disclosure.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published an article debunking Monsanto’s claim that it is a “leader and innovator in sustainable agriculture.”
While Monsanto advertises its technology as important to achieving such goals as adequate global food production and “reducing agriculture's negative impacts on the environment,” the UCS says in reality, the corporate giant stands in the way of sustainable agriculture.
For one, Monsanto’s policies promote pesticide resistance. “Their RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability,” reads the UCS article.
The article also notes that Monsanto’s policies increase herbicide use, which can cause health effects, and perpetuates gene contamination, as engineered genes tend to show up in non-GE crops. Additionally, the UCS says Monsanto is a purveyor of monoculture because it focuses only on limited varieties of a few commodity crops, reducing biodiversity, and as a result, increasing pesticide and fertilizer pollution.
The union points out that Monsanto’s lobbying, advertising and stronghold over research on its products makes it difficult for farmers and policymakers to make informed decisions about more sustainable agriculture.
Finally, UCS says Monsanto contributes little to helping the world feed itself, and has failed to endorse science-backed solutions that don't give its products a central role.