Ghana and the USA are at opposite ends of the social justice spectrum according to whoshouldicheerfor.com, but could all this change given that new oil has just been found off Ghana’s coastline? Reports abound as to whether this discovery and commercial exploitation by Irish company, Tullow oil (with the considerable financial backing of UK tax payer backed Royal Bank of Scotland) is a plague – or more commonly known as the ‘oil curse’ – or a silver bullet which will deliver economic development and prosperity to the people of Ghana.
The oil curse is a phenomemon where a country is sucked dry of its oil, whilst its citizens continue to go hungry, whilst foreign multinationals reap the rewards and neighbours fight over whose oil it was in the first place (see the Tullow oil backed civil war on the border of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo) and spills happen with no compensation (see Nigeria not the USA) nor furrowed brows from oil execs (see BP’s Tony Haywood except whilst on yaughting trips) nor the international outcry or media attention.
So is oil the route to prosperity and riches? In the US, surely the land that represents prosperity and riches above and beyond any other country, it is now seen as a plague that even the super power cannot control. And so after decades of over consumption and addiction, even Americans are finally eshewing the black stuff. And rightly so, it’s devastating the lives of millions of people around the world going unnoticed by the main stream media – oil coating coast lines and wild life that were previously pristine. And the carbon emissions deriving from oil are staggering and have pushed us to the brink of climate catastrophe that will hit the poorest people worst. But similarly to oil spills, will people only really begin to listen and act when climate change hits the USA?
In the UK right now, campaigning and activism is ramping up, spelling out trouble for BP itself and those that it sponsors. The folks at Fair Pensions have been doing a stirling job pushing for pension funds to stop investing in BP and Shell, and it’s pretty likely that your pension is in Deep water. BP is an enormously important stock for British pension funds, and with BP under pressure to scrap its next quarterly dividend – and facing the possibility of a takeover if the share price continues to fall – there is real potential for this crisis to damage UK savings.
More could have been done to foresee and prevent this catastrophe, but despite clear warning signs that BP was exposing our money to unacceptable risks, few investors acted to demand that the company address those risks. You can call on Pensions Minister Steve Webb to toughen up the standards for pension funds, so that our pensions, people and the planet are better protected against future crises.
Also the arts in the UK are enjoying the profits of Big Oil. This Monday (28th) the Tate is having a Summer Party celebrating 20 years of BP sponsorship. Taking money from BP lends big corporate oil the kudos of a key public cultural institution – it hands over a licence to spill. The vast and ugly Gulf of Mexico oil spill shows for the thousandth time that Big Oil sees no risk too reckless. Public art institutions should no longer prop them up. Yet, Shell and BP have between them sponsored almost all of London’s most prestigious museums and cultural institutions over the course of the last decade.
And, it’s peanuts – the actual figure has been kept hidden by both BP and Tate but it’s estimated to be as little as 0.5% of Tate’s annual budget. They stopped taking tobacco money and it’s high time for them to stop taking oil money. The pressure is ramping up – you can play a part of it
Today I will be sitting on the fence, cheering for two countries that are so different, but I fear that the oil plague that is on both their houses will bring them similarities that are not the promised prosperity but the unspoken devastation and dispair
Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.