Public Comment

Chevron Discredits Itself in Mayoral Smear Campaign

Colin Murphy
Friday October 24, 2014 - 02:30:00 PM

In what is turning out to be an epic political battle, the race for Richmond City Council is less than one month away from election day.

The stakes are massive: in a city that receives approximately 10% of its total revenue from Chevron, one of Richmond's largest employers, the oil giant has every intention of maintaining its powerful political influence there.

But after three major disasters at the Richmond Chevron Refinery, the worst of which was an explosion and fire that sent more than fifteen thousand residents to the hospital in August 2012, there's evidence that the Richmond populace is not so enthusiastic about the company's presence in their city. According a Richmond Confidential article last year, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Goia said that “there's always been a love-hate relationship between Chevron and Richmond.” He added, “support is at an all-time low.” 

Chevron claims to support the people of the working-class city. However, despite pouring millions into City programs — a typical corporate PR maneuver that could hardly be seen as humanitarian — Chevron doesn't seem to care enough about Richmond residents to tell them the truth. Instead, the massive corporation has elected the path of disingenuity by using smear tactics. For example, it has portrayed Richmond City Council candidate Eduardo Martinez as an “anarchist.” Online, Martinez has personally denounced that claim as “ludicrous,” saying he “believes we need government.”. It is also worth noting that contrary to Chevron's lies, anarchism is not anarchy. Anarchism is a political philosophy based on orderly, structured political and social institutions - not a power vacuum. 

Moving Forward is the official name of Chevron's not-so-subtle, ostensibly insecure attempt at a political mobilization. Beyond slamming E. Martinez, it has caused an outrage of homophobia by attacking Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles, a lesbian who is also running for City Council on the progressive Team Richmond slate, along with Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin, on the basis of Beckles's sexual orientation. Even more problematically, Moving Forward has alleged that Beckles "does nothing but" contribute to the City's "most dysfunctional Council in recent memory" when in fact it is the non-progressive candidates on the Council — namely the volatile Corky Booz and Nate Bates, both staunchly pro-Chevron — who consistently bark, badger, provoke conflict, and stonewall Council meetings. 

Moving Forward might as well be called the Chevron Defamation League, considering its affinity for slander. Indeed, this is what a major oil corporation resorts to after - possibly? — seeing the writing on the wall: the global fossil fuel industry is on its way out, slowly but surely. As the International Energy Outlook's 2012 report states, “no more than one-third (1/3) of proven fossil fuel reserves can be burned prior to 2050 if the world” is to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. Scientific consensus holds that warming the atmosphere past two degrees would cause irreversible warming vis-α-vis geophysical feedback loops, most infamously methane release through the thawing of Earth's vast permafrost. 

Public shows of support for a world beyond fossil fuels is building rapidly. Examples abound. Earlier this year, the Native American-led Connect the Dots Healing Walks drew hundreds to march miles in protest of the 5 fossil fuel refineries along the Carquinez Strait. Coupled with the unprecedentedly diverse 400,000 person-strong People's Climate March in New York City two weeks ago, which saw satellite protests all around the world of up to 30,000 people, these actions show that concern for climate change has moved people from all walks of life, in almost every country on Earth, to begin taking action. The world is realizing that coal, oil, gas and other fossil fuels must be left in the ground. And the sooner the better, for the stark realities of business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions are clear: if we don't stop using oil, gas, and coal, our species could make as much as half of the planet's land area too hot to support human life . Furthermore, the climate crisis could wipe out 85% of the entire Amazon rainforest — which currently produces 25% of all oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. The Amazon could turn into a veritable scrub wasteland. 

Chevron is a corporation motivated by profit whose activities are fast helping to overheat the planet at the potential cost of millions of species and billions of lives. In that light, Richmond and humanity have everything to lose by continuing to support this company. Those who currently work for Chevron's Richmond Refinery should be supported in finding employment elsewhere, namely in the burgeoning local living economies engaged in energy efficiency, harnessing renewable energy sources, and creating resilient local food systems, among other projects. By continuing to support fossil fuel combustion instead of bolstering new economic initiatives and institutions to move Richmond and the region away from dirty fuels, we run the risk of — well, running out of time. 

The window for taking action to prevent runaway climate change is fast closing on the City of Richmond as well as the Bay Area. Therefore, taking immediate action to develop new institutions to replace those that cradle fossil fuels is the fundamental task at hand. It is our societal duty to do so in order to preserve a decent life on this planet for current and future generations. As a City that now has a strong progressive tradition, Richmond is poised to be a national or even global leader in creating a new economy — an economy of green jobs that prioritizes People and Planet instead of Profit. Richmond cannot succeed in creating that future, however, if Chevron is allowed to maintain its stranglehold there.