By Paul Paz y Miño in Eye of the Amazon
Following close to 5000 emails and a letter from over 40 environmental and human rights NGOs, a spirited group of activists disrupted the San Francisco Commonwealth Club’s annual gala yesterday. The Commonwealth Club had chosen to honor infamous polluter and Chevron CEO John Watson as a “distinguished global citizen.” This decision sparked shock and outrage from the environmental and human rights community and especially from Richmond residents living in the shadow of Chevron’s notorious refinery.
Watson has proven himself to be a threat to both people and planet. His reckless behavior as head of Chevron has branded the company as one of the worst in the world – frequently polluting, undermining democracy and free speech, and not accepting responsibility for its toxic messes.
John Watson’s actions are no surprise to the protesters, nor to the 30,000 Ecuadorian Amazonians who have pursued him for decades to enforce a $9.5 billion dollar verdict against Chevron for polluting their homes with over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste. It was surprising, however, that the Commonwealth Club would choose to associate itself with Watson so explicitly and appear to endorse the behavior that earned Chevron the Public Eye Lifetime Achievment Award for corporate abuse just a few short weeks ago.
Well, Watson got a firsthand look at that award as Amazon Watch campaigner Adam Zuckerman approached him inside the hotel. Adam told Watson he was “very happy to present him with an award he truly deserves: the Public Eye award for poisoning 30,000 Ecuadorians and refusing to clean up Chevron’s toxic mess.” Watson’s stared in silence, confronted with the fact that he can’t escape the truth – even in the posh halls of the Ritz Carlton.
The Commonwealth Club’s refusal to acknowledge the issue is frankly unacceptable. There’s no explanation anywhere on their website of the criteria for their award, nor why they felt Watson was deserving. They even refused media inquiries into the issue. Remember, their stated mission is to be a “forum open to all for the impartial discussion of public issues important to the membership, community and nation.” President Duffy has not responded with any comment and sources from within the Club say staff have all been instructed to say absolutely nothing. This has reportedly made many staff understandably uncomfortable.
This scandal has also has put one person at the Club in a particularly difficult position: Greg Dalton, vice-president of the Club and head of its Climate One program. Climate One claims to aspire to “advance the discussion about a clean energy future.” John Watson and Chevron recently mothballed their solar and wind renewables program and are giddy about refining dirty tar sands oil in Richmond. It would be one thing to debate Watson about that, but honor him?
As Carl Pope, former president of the Sierra Club, said as he stopped to speak to the demonstrators, “they [Commonwealth Club] should talk to people. I can safely say that what Chevron is doing… is not what you expect a corporate good citizen to do.” As a respected member of the environmental community and guest of the Commonwealth Club and Climate One, perhaps Carl will get a response.
While Watson and Chevron attempted to buy themselves some respectability inside the Ritz, we held our own cocktail reception outside. We toasted to Watson with contaminated water from Ecuador – water he claims is safe to drink as Chevron alleges the entire case against it is a fraud. In the end Watson was clearly recognized for his contributions to the global community. The next step is to hold him accountable for them.