This week is the anniversary of Oil Change International’s founding. Ten years ago, when the organization started, I was thinking about what had happened ten years before that, when Shell killed a friend of mine in Nigeria.
That friend, an extraordinary man named Ken Saro-Wiwa, was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and hanged – all because he led what was then the most successful nonviolent resistance to oil industry extraction that Nigeria, or the world, had ever seen. Nigerians sued Shell in U.S. Federal Court, and after fighting for almost a decade and a half to stop the case, Shell settled on the eve of the trial, in 2009, for more than $15 million.
Ken often spoke of what he saw as the “unholy alliance between the political class and transnational oil corporations” that was ruining his country. Today, unfortunately, many more North Americans know exactly what he meant.
Ten years ago was also significant as the beginning of the North American oil boom, a phenomenon that owes much of its success to the “alliance between the political class” and the oil industry. Then Vice President Cheney is widely credited with insisting on what has come to be known as the Halliburton loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That act, which passed six days prior to the incorporation of Oil Change International, paved the way for the U.S. oil and gas fracking boom by providing billions in direct subsidies and even more in avoided costs to the domestic oil and gas industry.
Ten years later, things look different. It is now widely understood, if seldom discussed, that the United States went to war for oil in Iraq. The Obama Administration no longer talks about an All of the Above energy strategy and appears to be getting increasingly serious about climate policy, although recent events in the Arctic demonstrate there is more work to be done.
Most importantly though, in the last five years, a strong and still-growing movement for climate justice has emerged. Oil Change International has always recognized the success of this movement as central to our long-term goal of a Separation of Oil and State.
Ten years from our founding, we have built a team of expert researchers and campaigners that fill an important strategic and substantive niche in the movement. We will continue to support this movement with cutting-edge research, smart communications, and literally as much of our own energy as we can – until we can all look forward confidently to a future free of fossil fuels and a healthier climate.
November 10th 2015 will be the 20th anniversary of Ken’s execution. Ken knew that American thirst for oil drove the destruction in his homeland. He knew that corporate greed and environmental racism could not survive long in the sunlight. He knew that the answer was nonviolent organizing and access to the truth – to information.
We know we have privileges and freedoms in the U.S. today that Nigerians operating under a military dictatorship dependent on oil revenue did not – even as we acknowledge that America in 2015 is still a very dangerous place for many frontline fossil fuel communities who we stand in solidarity with.
For as long as is necessary, Oil Change International will continue to expose the true costs of fossil fuels, and to identify and overcome the political and economic barriers to the coming clean energy transition.
Thank you all so much for your support in every imaginable sense. Together, we can win, and that possibility is so much clearer today than it was ten, or twenty, years ago.