It hasn’t won the merest fraction of the coverage enjoyed by the London Olympics, but last week’s massive Chevron oil refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., sent hundreds of people rushing to hospitals, darkened the skies over East Bay, and has gasoline prices headed back up towards $4 a gallon. AP notes this “was just the latest pollution incident at the facility that records show has increasingly violated air quality rules over the past five years. The refinery is one of three such facilities near San Francisco that rank among the state’s top 10 emitters of toxic chemicals, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory. Chevron’s Richmond refinery…has been cited by San Francisco Bay area regulators for violating air regulations 93 times in the past five years.”
From another AP report on Aug. 11:
Several thousand Richmond residents have filed legal claims against Chevron Corp., seeking compensation for a refinery fire that fouled the region’s air for hours and sent more than 4,000 people to seek medical care for breathing problems and irritated eyes.
Hundreds of residents showed up at a makeshift claim center in Richmond on Friday, and many more submitted claims throughout the week by calling a special hotline Chevron established after Monday’s explosion and fire. The company said a total of about 3,800 people had submitted claims through Friday afternoon.
Just three days after the fire, Aug. 9, columnist Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post, under the slightly corny headline “Heating up debate on climate change”:
Excuse me, folks, but the weather is trying to tell us something. Listen carefully, and you can almost hear a parched, raspy voice whispering: “What part of ‘hottest month ever’ do you people not understand?”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July was indeed the hottest month in the contiguous United States since record-keeping began more than a century ago. That distinction was previously held by July 1936, which came at the height of the Dust Bowl calamity that devastated the American heartland.
The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees—a full 3.3 degrees warmer than the 20th-century norm for July. This follows the warmest 12-month period ever recorded in the United States, and it continues a long-term trend that is obvious to all except those who stubbornly close their eyes: Of the 10 hottest years on record, nine have occurred since 2000.
Nice to se this in the pages of the Post given all the endlessly annoying denialism about the climate crisis. And the droughts and fires now devastating the Great Plains and Intermountain West are kid’s stuff compared to the human disaster unfolding in Africa’s Sahel, where the failed rains are fueling war, displacing thousands, and threatening an estimated 18 million with hunger. Yet, Robinson did not make the connection to the Richmond conflagration.
Now, dig this perversity. Stock in Chevron finished higher on the day of the Richmond fire, Aug. 6, and higher still the day after that. (MarketWatch, Aug. 7; MarketWatch, Aug. 6) An Aug. 12 piece on InvestorPlace crowed in its headline: “Chevron Keeps on Pumping Out the Dividends; An historical and steady dividend payer continues the tradition.” The story but briefly mentioned the Richmond fire, displaying no great concern.
The capitalist entity Chevron is utterly unperturbed by the ecological and social havoc it causes. On the contrary, it thrives on it. How many reports on the Richmond disaster have mentioned the company’s responsibility for devastating oil spills off the coast of Brazil, repeated despoliations of peasant and fishing communities in Nigeria, systemic ecocide in the Ecuadoran Amazon (through its 2001 acquisition of Texaco), to name but a few?
We aired the case for a public take-over of BP in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and put the question to our readers, despite the fact that it was only raised by such fringe voices as the Socialist Party USA. When will the idea of social control of (at least) the world’s most critical industry no longer be taboo in US political discourse? How many more such disasters will it take, and how much deeper into the big planetary disaster of climate change must we go, before we start to face the inevitable? The system of petro-oligarchical rule, and more generally corporate rule, is the fundamental problem—and it must be taken over and dismantled. A public seizure of the entire apparatus of the oil industry is the first, necessary step away from the course of global disaster. And we still aren’t even allowed to talk about it.
See our last post on the struggle in East Bay.