[gas]Global warming. Mass murder and rape in Indonesia. The war in Iraq. The Mobil gas you pump into your car. The institution of MSU and its investment portfolio. One might find one of these topics out of place. Unfortunately, all five are inextricably linked, and the relationship is more direct than optimistically perceived. Read on to see how MSU\’s investments directly support the Mobil gas pouring from international gas pumps, and indirectly are associated with both global warming and international atrocities.
The environmental and social effects of oil mining and distribution are commonly alluded to, but the explanation in full can easily be misinterpreted. According to Global Exchange\’s Brandon Knight, an MSU alumnus who works as a Freedom From Oil campaigner, the Chain of Destruction protruding from the oil mining industry is intricate. \”Basically, there are a lot of problems,\” Knight said. In more detail, he explained the complexities. The Chain of Destruction consists of six stages that take the petroleum from its natural location to the air that we breathe. \”First is exploration, which is when oil companies go out looking for oil and take over land from communities.\” Second is the production phase, which includes mining for oil. \”On top of the oil is a natural gas,\” Knight said. \”A lot of companies will burn this off, putting off carbon dioxide, which is polluting the air quality for the local community.\” The goods then have to be taken to their destinations, which leads to the third stage: transportation. \”It takes lots of energy to move it around the planet,\” Knight said. Fourth is the refining phase, followed by retail, and then finally combustion. As Knight explained, carbon dioxide is emitted in this final phase, which is the biggest greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming. While the direct cycle may seem to halt there, the effects continue to ripple through society. According to Knight, this all leads to a society \”reliant on cars, which leads to urban sprawl, then to the car culture that we have now.\”
In addition to the environmental repercussions of the Chain of Destruction are the social implications. As mentioned, the Chain of Destruction\’s first phase of exploration is an act that ends in taking over land from communities that are full of natural resources. The detrimental effects to the community here are obvious – extracting resources, exploiting the land of locals to benefit the rich very far away. Even if resources are available, mass populations of developing countries often can\’t afford to enjoy the products of their own land. While oil is produced in India, many Indians opt for an alternative fuel. \”In many other countries, exploitation of resources isn\’t even an option because they can\’t afford it,\” said English senior Nayantara Sen, a native of India. \”In Bombay, India, they use cow-dung cakes to burn for methane. Not a question of choice – but of necessity.\”
Many people equate the oil enterprise as a motive in the United State\’s current war in Iraq. \”I think that the war in Iraq is about control of global oil and the supply of oil,\” Cole Smith, plant ecology junior, said. Smith is also a member of the Michigan Students for Sustainability Coalition. While different peoples\’ perception of how these two facets (the war and oil) are connected, the opinion that they are indeed connected is not unique or uncommon.
\”One of the biggest users of petroleum is the army, which is a direct connection,\” Knight said. \”Indirectly, companies profiting from the war have administrative ties, too.\” He also believes one of the reasons the U.S. is in Iraq is oil control.
[smoke]ExxonMobil, a company that produces, transports and sells natural gas and crude oil worldwide is the largest company in the world by market value. Weighing in at $410.65 billion, it far surpasses General Electric at $358.98 billion and Wal-mart at $201.36 billion. ExxonMobil is one such company that contributes to the environmental struggle our globe faces today.
They have been under scrutiny by various environmental and human rights organizations for their practices. Arguably the most appalling circumstance is the one for which the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) filed a claim under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) in the Federal District for the District of Columbia on behalf of 11 villagers of Aceh, Indonesia, on June 20, 2001. The ILRL is able to file a lawsuit under ATCA against ExxonMobil\’s activities in a foreign land because the ATCA allows foreign nationals that have been violated under the \”law of the nations\” or a U.S. treaty to file suit in federal court. The ILRF describes the reasoning for this legal initiative in brief and ExxonMobil\’s follow-up activity as follows: \”The general theory of the case is that ExxonMobil knowingly employed brutal military troops to protect its operations, and the company aided and abetted the human rights violations through financial and other material support to the security forces. In addition, the case alleges that the security forces are either employees or agents of ExxonMobil, and thus ExxonMobil is liable for their actions. ExxonMobil filed a routine motion to dismiss ILRF\’s claim, and ILRF filed a response against this motion on Dec. 14, 2001.\” The human rights violations that military troops have committed and that ILRF is referring to include \”murder, rape, torture, destruction of property and other acts of terror.\” This case has not yet been settled, but as of March 2006: \”Judge [Louis F.] Oberdorfer ruled that plaintiffs may proceed with their claims of abuses, including wrongful death, battery, assault, and arbitrary arrest against ExxonMobil under state law. Following this order, we are looking forward to entering into the \’discovery\’ phase (obtaining evidence) of the case and then finally allowing plaintiffs to have their day in court.\”
The brutal instance of the happenings in Indonesia are only one of the agenda items in the Stop ExxonMobil Alliance (SEMA), which is a coalition of respected organizations such as Amnesty International, ILRF and Greenpeace that was created to confront and address the practices of this corporation. Other repercussions of ExxonMobil\’s doings that SEMA brings to the foreground include: ecosystem destruction; damages to community health; the sabotage of efforts taken to combat global warming; and the money ExxonMobil devotes to politics.
Thus far we\’ve covered four of the five items: global warming, mass murder and rape in Indonesia, the war in Iraq, and the Mobil gas you pump into your car, leaving the institution of MSU and their investment portfolio.
\”Students at MSU filed a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request for MSU\’s investment portfolio and found that MSU is invested in war profiteers, such as weapons manufacturers and oil companies,\” psychology senior Triana Sirdenis said. One such oil company is ExxonMobil. \”A divestment campaign is currently being discussed amongst various groups at MSU.\” A divestment campaign is different than an ethical contracting campaign, though both have end goals of convincing an institution to alter its current practices for one more just.
\”Ethical contracting is when an institution, like MSU, uses its current power or position from existing contracts to put pressure on a corporation to change its business practices; whether it be one of many issues like environmental abuse or union busting. The long term goal is to improve the conditions of the workers and ensure future ethical contracting practices between the university and corporations,\” Sirdenis explained. \”Examples of these campaigns are the WRC [Worker Rights Consortium] and Killer Coke. Divestment, however, is different because it cuts our investment, not a contract, in a company. So we might have stock in Wal-mart, lets say, but we don\’t have a contract with Wal-mart. Divestment takes money away from the corporation by cutting the university\’s financial support to end their affiliation or connection to corporate business practices. It is debated whether divestment campaigns improve the conditions for workers at the bottom of the corporate ladder since the goal is not completely worker focused.\”
To some, the idea of an institution deciding to partake in such a movement may sound far-fetched, but it has happened before. \”MSU was the first school to divest from Apartheid South Africa,\” Sirdenis said. Also, she said that divestment campaigns are currently active in at least two different Michigan schools: University of Michigan and Wayne State University. \”The campaign goal is for the schools to divest from companies that are complicit in the Iraqi War. Most schools picked the top 5-10 companies and chose to target those specifically.\”
Is it important to divest? \”Yes, but we have to fully consider where that money will go to,\” Knight said. \”I really think we need to consider divestment [and reinvestment] – and broaden [the aim] to make MSU committed to investing in socially and environmentally just corporations.\”
[msu]Some may not understand why others percieve MSU\’s investment in ExxonMobil as a problem. \”I see MSU being very hypocritical [if they are invested in oil] because they are attempting to get on the band wagon [by doing things like joining the Chicago Climate Challenge] but they are being self defeating. It\’s not good for any large institution to be invested in war,\” Smith said. \”If you equate Exxon with war, then MSU is invested in war.\” Smith felt that if a divestment campaign was to be launched, a proposal would need to be made for what MSU should alternatively do with the investment funds. He suggested putting an emphasis on reinvestment into more of a sustainable enterprise. \”I think that when I first heard [of MSU\’s investment in ExxonMobil] – at first I was really kind of surprised,\” Sen said. \”Then I was disappointed, then angry and outraged.\” The focus of her anger was on the hypocrisy of the investment. \”It needs to change, ASAP.\”
If you find the correlation of the five items to be troublesome, there are actions you can take. Online resources for those wanting to become more educated on these issues include the websites for ILRF (www.laborrights.org) and SEMA (www.stopexxonmobil.org). More local is the MSU student organization STRAAW (Students Taking Real Action Against War), which meets every Monday at 7 p.m. in the basement of the MSU Union. If these steps are too time consuming, the more personal option could be eliminating your contribution to these list items. Bikes don\’t require gas.

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