Disaster Capitalism in Action COVID 19 AND THE OIL BUSINESS

by Gary Porter

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As of April 10, Canada had over 21,000 cases of Covid 19 and 431 deaths from the novel corona virus. ‘Elective’ surgeries were cancelled over three weeks earlier, leaving patients, mostly older folks with painful joints and low mobility, some who had waited up to two years for surgery, to wait even longer. Hospitals in Canada are strangely quiet, waiting for the wave of patients to arrive — gasping, fevered, weak and coughing desperately to clear their lungs and inhale oxygen as the plague swings its deadly scythe around the globe.

As Canadians isolate themselves at home, or work in masks and gloves, if they have them, to provide, food, medicine, and other essentials, the number of layoffs mounts. Federal funds allocated to offer support are rolling out, small in amount and missing many of the needy. Rental fees and mortgage payments continue in most cases. Fifty-three per cent of Canadians live paycheck to paycheck. Including mortgages, the average Canadian adult owes more than $71,000. Nearly 60 per cent have no savings.

For the vast majority of workers, life under the capitalist system of wage labour leaves no margin for calamity.

Oil and Pipelines Are Not Essential. So, Why are they Getting Special Treatment?

Only essential services — food, drugs, essential transport, utilities, etc. — are permitted to operate.

You cannot eat, drink or be ventilated by the fossil fuel industry. There is no way in hell that new oil and gas infrastructure is essential under plague conditions, or any conditions.

Yet oil and gas companies are continuing to dig and lay down pipelines in multiple Canadian provinces, and in American states including Minnesota, Montana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. At a time when crude oil prices are very low and natural gas prices are at record lows, the decision to barrel ahead with infrastructure projects is a morally damning condemnation of the oil and mining cartels. So says Thea Riofrancos, a political science professor at Providence College, and co-author of A Planet to Win, in an interview with Truthout.

· Shelter-in-place orders have checkerboarded their way across North America over the past few weeks. Protests against these projects have been forced to move online for safety. A protest movement that had taken aim at stopping the Coastal GasLink Pipeline from being built through Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia by blocking railroads ports, highways, bridges and ferries, with huge economic impact in Canada, is now resorting to petitions and the fomenting of Twitter storms. Other, more neighborhood-based efforts, like a campaign to stop a high pressure natural gas pipeline through the Pimmit Hills neighborhood in Fairfax County, Virginia, have shifted from rallying and door knocking, to online fundraising for an anticipated legal battle.

Some local elected officials, like Pennsylvania State Sen. Andy Dinniman, have voiced support for calls to shut fossil fuel projects down during the pandemic. But lawmakers in Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia passed “critical infrastructure” bills in March, joining a growing list of states with legislation that criminalizes protest against oil and gas projects.

New Democratic Party Premier John Horgan in British Columbia has allowed the construction camps on the massive Site C Dam to provide power for huge fracking operations. The Coastal Gas Link pipeline, which violates the unceded land of Indigenous peoples, and the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning project from the Alberta tar sands to Vancouver, remain in operation. Several thousand workers are in work camps, sleeping in bunk houses and eating in cafeterias. They live and labour in a COVID-19 Petri dish. Horgan, the Leader of the labour-based NDP in BC is taking a strong stand for the Oil billionaires and against the workers. This is not new for social democrats, but always repulsive to see. These camps are simply defined as “essential services” in a cynical ploy to rush the projects forward while opponents are busy trying to stay alive.

Prime Minister Trudeau, and his billionaire Finance Minister, venture-capitalist Bill Morneau, are allocating billions to these oil infrastructure projects. Premier Jason Kenny, the arch-conservative Premier of Alberta, “invested” a billion dollars and guaranteed $6.5 billion in credit to XL pipeline to funnel filthy Alberta oil to Texas.

Plowing Through Unceded Territory

For First Nations, whose unceded lands underlie pipeline paths, there is a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. In accordance with the public health emergency declared across Canada on March 17, and a provincial state of emergency in British Columbia imposed on March 18, Wet’suwet’en home sites and the community’s healing center are under lockdown, according to the Unist’ot’en Camp Facebook page.

Tensions between Wet’suwet’en land protectors and the Canadian government reached new heights in March after Canada’s federal cops, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), broke a barricade, arrested and forcibly removed three Unist’ot’en matriarchs and four other land defenders. ‘Reconciliation’ talks scheduled between hereditary chiefs

and Canadian officials earlier in March were inconclusive. “Meanwhile, we face a steady stream of transient workers and RCMP who put our people and communities — and especially our elders — at risk,” the Facebook post explained.

All of this seems crazy on the surface. This work is evidently not essential. In fact, it is wholly undesirable, as it increases Green House Gas emissions on a grand scale. But to the global profiteers, including the massive oil cartel, it makes a lot of sense. During crises, when the population is in a state of shock, and ‘shelter in place’ has immobilized protest, and when public attention is focused on survival, the time is right to divert billions from the state to obscenely rich and powerful oil companies and to push the construction, at full speed, of very unpopular and ecologically destructive oil and gas infrastructure. This is what Naomi Klein calls ‘Disaster Capitalism.’ It is the capitalist practice of stoking fears of privation and death amongst working people, and like vultures, grabbing huge amounts of public funds, forging ahead with unpopular projects, and making hay while the sun is hidden. It comes as second nature.

Nationalize Big Oil and Gas

The oil and gas cartel is so persistent, so insistent on profit, on being allowed to ruin the earth as a habitat for humanity and other species. So are the governments they buy. The only way to stop the capitalists is to nationalize them, to phase out their carbon extraction activities, and employ their accumulated trillions as rapidly as possible to establish publicly-owned and worker-managed green energy infrastructure. Regulation will not work, given the immense scale and short time prerequisites. The dominance of the oil cartel requires the transfer of their assets from private to public hands now.