The contemporary debate surrounding environmental preservation and global warming is a robust vertical divide right down the middle between two warring factions espousing their own variants and versions of entrenched beliefs. On one side of this argument stand the eternal optimists (allowing myself a take on a term coined by the famous author Matt Ridley) who claim that global warming, climate change and environmental degradation represent exaggerations of such gross proportions that they blur into mere figments of an overactive imagination. On the other side of the divide are the veritable harbingers of bad tidings who take painstaking efforts to warn us that Mother Earth is already Planet Doomsday, and her inhabitants condemned pilgrims well on their way up the road to perdition.
In The Facts of the Matter (“the book”), author David Parish – who worked for ExxonMobil as a public affairs representative and consultant from 1988 through 2006 – argues for a more balanced approach towards environment and responsible development. Encouraging all stakeholders to move away from what he calls a “bumper-sticker rhetoric” that swings between the two extremes of “Drill Baby Drill” and “Save the Planet now”, Mr. Parish exhorts all the participants engaged to analyse outcomes in an unbiased and impartial manner leaving behind passionate emotions and personal biases. Mr. Parish asserts that our societal beliefs are to a great extent shaped by what he terms “The Big Green Machine – an informal and growing coalition of big media, big environmental groups, big government agencies, big businesses and big politicians.” Each of these five influential and powerful players, play on our emotions while at the same time, pursuing their individual self-serving agendas. Purveying an “us v them” notion, this Big Green Machine has as its overarching template an element of sensationalism and shock value that skews perception and skewers logic.
Mr. Parish urges us not to employ the phrase “going green” as a convenient synonym of ecological preservation. Quoting from an excerpt featured in the “Time” magazine, the author brings our attention to the fact that, “our computers and smartphones might seem clean, but the digital economy uses a tenth of the world’s electricity – and that share will only increase, with serious consequences for the economy and the environment.” The way forward, Mr. Parish proposes is a compact between stakeholders such as the colossal energy companies, native dwellers upon whose land the said companies propose to conduct their operations and the Government. He also provides the popular example of the Red Dog Zinc and Lead mine in the remote Northwest Arctic. The NANA regional Native corporation is a part owner and partner in the mine since the late 1980s. NANA has partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund (“UNICEF”) in Canada to provide succor and relief to vulnerable children in India and other countries. As Mr. Parish informs us, “the five-year program under the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (“ZACH”) targeted improving access to zinc supplements and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea while strengthening healthcare systems and improving supply chains across India……less than 2 percent of Indian children have access to these lifesaving therapies. UNICEF estimated that the program would save 100,000 children’s lives in India over just a five-year period.”
As highlighted by Mr. Parish, it is inevitable that any project which comes up in a developed country be examined threadbare for both its positive connotations and negative outcomes before being either approved or thrown out the window. A bumper sticker rhetoric fueled approach might lead to a mining project being outlawed in a country (where the environmental and safety standards are world class) only to be shifted to a third or even fourth world country like Madagascar, where people living on subsistence wages of under $2 a day toil in sub-human conditions with non-existent environment laws and a complete disdain for the safety of the workers (a great proportion of whom are child labourers). As illustrated by Mr. Parish, Iceland has practiced this philosophy unerringly in the process of constructing some of the world’s largest aluminum smelters using hydro and geothermal power, and at the same time chalking up some enviable statistics such as zero unemployment, double university enrollment in a decade, plunging rates of teen alcohol and a near obliteration in teen drug usage! Mr. Parish thus advocates following a middle ground between a “do-nothing paralysis” and a “do-it-now” approach to obtain the most desirable of results.
Mr. Parish brings his extensive experience of having worked with all the relevant stakeholders having effects, influence and impact over the fortunes of the environment. And it is this experience which makes him adopt a balanced and logical perspective to environment and responsible development (even though in some passages of the book, he comes across as an apologist for ExxonMobil by assertively reiterating the various developmental schemes and preservation efforts undertaken by his former employer).
At the time of writing this review, Monsanto, an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant suffered a major jolt with a jury ruling that the company was liable for a terminally ill man’s cancer, ordering the corporation to fork out $289m in damages. Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, took the multinational colossus to trial over contentions that the chemical sold under the brand Roundup causes cancer. The jury concurring with the allegations of Johnson, awarded the aforementioned huge damages to him.
With the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa poised to take millions of people out of the clutches of poverty into the category of middle class, and the race for resource accumulation and energy consumption is heading in only one direction – north. This scramble will bring along with it the attendant burdens on the environment as well as on people constituting an integral part of it. While a rising tide may have the potential to raise all the boats, a vengeful surge of the waters also has the capability to wreak havoc and cause wanton damage and destruction. The relevant stakeholders across the globe would do well to take into consideration the reasonable balance proposals of David Parish while evaluating any proposal that has material economic ramifications inextricably attached with environmental consequences.