Greg Palast’s new book, Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores, really pissed me off. I’m sure it could do the same for your friends and family this holiday season.
Vultures’ Picnic is basically a non-fiction book written in a hard-bitten detective novel style, which is pretty interesting. The Bukowski quote that serves as the book’s epigraph is fitting, since there’s something of Bukowski’s no-bullshit, uninhibited confessionalism to Palast’s voice. That’s definitely not the part that pisses me off.
I spend all day thinking about the excesses and abuses of Big Oil and trying to figure out how to turn the size and influence of oil companies against them, jiu-jitsu style. I didn’t think there was much that could shock me about the ways Big Oil is screwing us all in the name of profits, but Palast manages to do so several times in this book.
I get into the field as often as possible to witness firsthand the impacts our corporate targets — companies with absolutely no scruples, like Chevron — are having on the planet. But I haven’t witnessed a damn thing compared to Palast. Vultures’ Picnic’s at times scattered narrative reflects his travels, from Kazakhstan to Alaska to Ecuador to the Gulf of Mexico, as he tries to track down the real story behind the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. This man is not only willing to travel to the belly of the beast, he’s rooting through the beast’s guts, too, searching for the real dirty shit no one else wants to touch. And for that, we should all thank him.
What Palast uncovers is the truly maddening thing about this book. Think BP and its corporate culture was the chief culprit of the Gulf oil spill? That’s not even half the story. Think Exxon and its drunk ship’s captain was solely responsible for the Valdez spill? Nope.
I’ve argued many times that Big Oil seems to have decided it was cheaper to pay the fines from oil spills than to try and prevent them in the first place. Throw in some lobbying, buy off a politician or two, and you can make sure those fines never get too excessive. It’s obvious to anyone observing Big Oil — there are systemic problems with the whole industry and regulatory structure that make oil spills an inevitability, and no oil company ever pays the full costs of its malfeasance. But Palast has actually assembled the evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy.
And don’t worry: Because the problems with the oil industry are systemic, Chevron does not get off lightly even though it’s not ostensibly the subject of Vultures’ Picnic. I learned all sorts of things about Chevron that I didn’t know. For instance, Chevron has removed 2.7 million acres of Gulf Coast wetlands in its pursuit of profits. Chevron also played a key role in helping cover up the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And Palast has documents showing that the company deliberately destroyed internal records so they couldn’t be used by the Ecuadorean plaintiffs who have won an $18 billion judgment against the company — but I’m going to let Palast tell that story himself in an upcoming guest post on this blog.
So, believe me when I say: If you’re looking to really incense your loved ones this holiday season, look no further. You’ve just found the perfect gift.