Friday, April 4, 2008

Previously Pristine

The reason that a lot of these issues aren't well suited to the major media is because they unfold over long periods of time -- and while the dramatic information is often staggering, daily news is based on the new and on the changing in time of a course of events.

Okay -- so this morning I came across a really big story -- a really little story about a really big story.

Report Says Chevron Owes Billions for Ecuadorean Pollution

It's a Reuters article in the Times business section. And in a lawsuit that began in the early 1990s, there has just been a bit of amazing "independent expert" testimony. (I put that phrase in quotes not to cast doubt on it -- simply to say that I am not making the claim. I don't know enough to -- and Chevron is claiming bias. I tend to believe that it is the report is both independent and expert -- for what it's worth.)

"An independent environmental expert told a court in Ecuador that the oil company Chevron should pay $7 billion to $16 billion in compensation for environmental damage in the country."

According to a 2005 column in the Times:

"The company is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, over a period of 20 years, into the soil and water of a previously pristine section of the Amazon rain forest.

According to a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of some 30,000 impoverished residents of the rain forest, this massive, long-term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers."

From the ChevronToxico activist website

It's kind of hard to get a lot of information on the situation -- I read about 5 articles this morning -- primarily from the Times and spanning the last 28 years. I read parts of a 20 page piece from the above mentioned website -- while it was pretty well written, it's very hard to decipher what you read on activist websites -- just as it is hard to read company websites. When people write with an agenda it is difficult to determine the truth of the matter.

Trick photography and tampering aside, the beauty of photography is that it simply offers observations. (Of course, that statement is extremely loaded... and I could and have gone off on that subject for hours -- but let's just say for the sake of argument it's true enough for now.)

Sara Dalton The New York Times

On the Chevron website there is a press release from last November -- a court in California dismissed claims against the company that the toxic waste had caused cancer -- the dismisal was based on the statute of limitations.

Who flaunts that?

Five years ago the Times ran an article about the suit which started this way:

"When René Arévalo draws water from his well, it is brown and gummy, requiring him to run it through a makeshift filtering system outside his wood-plank home in the jungle outside this town.

Like thousands of other people here, he suspects the water was fouled by the waste an American oil company dumped across miles of Amazonia in its 20 years of operations. After all, he and his five children live across from a separation plant once operated by a Texaco affiliate, their house built on a mound of dirt that covered a pit where wastewater was dumped.

"If you dig here just a meter deep, you hit oil," Mr. Arévalo said, moments after probing into the dirt outside his house to show visitors the gooey slime. "The water is contaminated, very contaminated. But we drink it. What else can we do?"

Now, about 30,000 people affected by the waste are hoping that a lawsuit, accusing ChevronTexaco of dumping 18.5 billion gallons of waste into open, unlined pits, will lead to a full-scale cleanup. This week, the California-based company, an energy giant created in 2001 when Chevron merged with Texaco, went on trial here in a case that, if successful for the plaintiffs, could establish a new way for American companies to be held accountable for environmental degradation in foreign countries."

Or the opposite -- on has to suppose...

When I was much younger -- maybe 15 years ago -- I told a therapist that I was beginning to get a little obsessed with having to prove things. She said that was fine -- as long as I didn't make a career out of it... I said... ummm... I am a documentary photographer.

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