Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Comparative oil spills

If your students in the next school year remember the underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, Julia Baird, writing in Newsweek, offers a comparison with ecological disaster in Nigeria. The article is a good beginning for lessons about state capacity, corruption, and a rentier economy.



Oil’s Shame in Africa
It was hard to believe BP when it announced oil had stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, July 15. It had taken 87 days. There was relief but little jubilation: it will take many years to clean the shores and the birds, and for the sea to begin to repair itself from the onslaught of poisonous oil. Surely we can no longer call it a “spill”—it seems too light and trite a word.

What’s even more troubling is that in Nigeria, the country that has arguably suffered most from oil drilling, oil “accidents”—large and small—occur almost weekly, and we hear little about it. A lethal combination of sloppiness, corruption, weak regulation, and lack of accountability has meant that each year since the 1960s, there has been a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez’s into the Niger Delta. Large purple slicks cover once fertile fields, and rivers are clogged with oil leaked decades ago. It has been called the “black tide”: a stain of thick, gooey oil that has oozed over vast tracts of land and poisoned the air for millions of Africans. In some areas fish and birds have disappeared: the swamps are silent…

There are many reasons this has occurred: sabotage, faulty equipment, corroded infrastructure. The regulations are weak, rarely enforced, and there are few punitive measures to ensure that spills are managed, monitored, and cleaned up. The oil companies are, effectively, asked to self-regulate. The new Nigerian president, aptly named Goodluck Jonathan, has promised to hold them accountable, but the regulatory agencies are toothless, weakened by decades of rule by corrupt dictators who acted in concert with oil companies and siphoned off much of the oil wealth (80 percent of the state’s revenue comes from oil). The money that has come from oil drilling in Nigeria—$600 billion so far—has gone to very few; most Nigerians live in extreme poverty…

As Prof. Rebecca Bratspies from CUNY School of Law says, “Problems associated with oil production are usually invisible to those of us who consume vast quantities. We don’t see how dirty it is. [The gulf] is a more extreme version of daily events in Nigeria, where the oil companies have had a complete and total disregard for the environmental implications of their actions.”…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

Find out What You Need to Know


Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home