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Fake Accounting, Greed and Oil

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While countries around the world continue to watch their economies collapse, and Goldman-Sachs leaders testify to Congress about how they manipulated both their shareholders and the American public, we are also faced with a tragic oil spill on our most fragile coastlines.

The sad truth is that oil, greed and fake accounting work hand in hand to empower those who have -- and significantly disempower those who do not.

In my book, HOODWINKED I talk about the 30,000 Ecuadorians who filed a lawsuit against Texaco (since purchased by Chevron). See this link. The company destroyed vast sections of rain forest and the toxic wastes from its operations allegedly killed many people and made many more chronically sick.

It is often the indigenous people who are the ultimate losers in the greed wars. How can they with so little to start with take a stand against a huge oil company? Despite the challenges they faced, the Ecuadorians did do this and continue to battle.

Trudie Styler who visited the devastated Ecuadorian site and joined me at a public talk in Quito several years ago hosted a concert at Carnegie Hall on May 13, 2010. It featured her husband Sting, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, and Debbie Harry and was a fundraiser for the Rainforest Fund, founded by Trudie and Sting in 1989. Afterwards Trudie expressed to me feelings similar to those she often says publicly:

"You know,(Trudie said) I love beaches and coastal environments. I love the ocean. I'm appalled by the terrible scenes of devastation that etched themselves forever into our consciousness after the Exxon Valdez disaster and now are haunting us once again along the Gulf Coast. I am dismayed by the continuing destruction of our delicate ecosystems -- of birds, fish, animals, and plants. This is absolutely unacceptable. We MUST protect or coastlines from such tragedies.

"However, I have also flown over thousands of miles of rain forests that have been destroyed by oil. I have been with mothers sitting at the bedsides of their children, as they lie in terrible agony, innocent victims of the most horrible deaths imaginable -- because oil drilling poisoned their water and their food sources. I have stood beside once-pristine lakes now turned into black tar.

"So, I feel compelled to ask everyone to take into account the entire planet as we mourn for the Gulf Coast and seek ways to protect our beaches. Let us avoid the temptation to say "not in my back yard; take the pollution someplace else." Let us rather commit to freeing ourselves from the oil addiction that ultimately will destroy all of us."

Steve Donziger, a New York lawyer who has devoted more than a decade to the case, repeats every chance he gets, "And most of the consumers in the United States have no idea. They are oblivious to the true price of the oil they consume. And Big Oil wants to keep it that way."

These statements express a sad truth about so much of what is going on in the world today and the inadequacy of our accounting procedures to assign the true costs to products. Oil is a classic example of how those who sit on resources are inadequately compensated while those who consume them are charged prices that do not begin to cover the actual costs. In light of last week's oil spill, it seems we are seeing the same thing happen again with BP and the countless millions the oil spill will affect horribly for a decade.

Many costs are never taken into account when determining the price of the goods and services we consume. They are all too often considered "externalities." Those externalities include the social and environmental costs of the destruction of resources, the pollution, and the burdens on society of workers who become injured or ill and receive little or no health care; the indirect funding of companies that are permitted to market hazardous products, dump wastes into rivers or oceans, and pay employees less than a living wage, just to name a few.

All of these and more contribute to the current global economic crisis. Because so many resources are underpriced, they are wasted casually and depleted unnecessarily. Instead of recycling or using them more efficiently, we continue to drill, mine, extract, and manufacture with reckless abandon.

Is the "Age of Reckless Abandon" really what we want to be most remembered for in generations to come?

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