Our Planet or Their Profits

Last month the Richmond city council approved a billion dollar project for Chevron’s Richmond facility to refine dirtier and higher sulfur containing crude oil, which is more toxic than regular oil. This is barely two years after the 2012 fire which sent black fumes into the air and 15,000 people to local hospitals. That was the third major explosion over twelve years.

After the explosion, Chevron was charged with willful neglect by Cal-OSHA for having known in advance that the plant’s equipment needed repairs. Leaks that needed permanent fixes were just clamped shut all over the plant. Chevron, one of the world’s most profitable companies, pulled in 71 billion dollars in profit the year of the explosion. Of course they could have afforded the repairs and safety maintenance, but Chevron made a clear and conscious choice to put profits first.

Chevron has made the argument that their expansion project is about job creation versus the environment, saying that if they were denied the right to expand production, then new jobs that Richmond desperately needs won’t be created. Everything about how we make a living is phrased as do it their way or kiss our jobs goodbye. If we voice concern about conditions at work they tell us we’re even lucky to have a job at all – implying that we must simply accept our conditions.

In return for the expansion Chevron promises to upgrade plant safety, as if they need to be paid off in order to operate a safe plant. One of the promises they made was to fix corroded pipes. As if that were a concession! They also promised to give $90 million over ten years for special projects in Richmond. Some money will go for education resources and student scholarships, Chevron will also give some land to the city for the development of solar panels.

What does Richmond need? This money will go to a few programs, but an expansion of the refineries means more health problems for the community.

Richmond has double the child asthma rates compared to Marin across the bay. As one resident said, “Don’t give our kids backpacks and ice cream and then give them asthma and cancer.” What does it mean to create jobs or send kids to college if we all get sick?

This isn’t just about the Chevron Richmond oil refinery. This is part of a much larger problem that we are facing. The warnings become more desperate, environmental disasters more catastrophic, and the signs much clearer. But capitalism continues to press forward in finding newer and more dangerous ways to exploit the environment and make the problems even worse.

Capitalism is based on the extraction of maximum profits, with complete disregard for the environment Rivers are drying up, oceans are becoming more acidic, sea levels are rising, and what’s left of forests are dying on a massive scale – our planet is in crisis. But the corporations maintain their destructive practices.

The system we live in, that we are taught and trained to believe is the only way to live, is pushing our species down a path of extinction and taking the whole planet with us. As long as the corporations and the politicians who serve them are left in charge, they will keep pushing us in the same direction.

Around the world, people are taking up the struggle against global climate change. From Peru to India to the United States, groups of people have begun to protest the pollution of the planet. This past Saturday in Richmond, hundreds of people gathered to voice their anger and to say that Chevron has no right to bargain with our lives and our planet. Of course, it is not just Chevron. Their system which values profit over life is the root of the problem. It’s up to us to say, our lives and our planet are worth more than their profits. And it’s up to us to change their system, because it is our planet and our future at stake.