NASA has a new Bible. Its full title is Mining the Skies: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets. Plutonium-238 will provide the power for nuclear mining stations on the moon and Mars. The US Space Command compares itself to Christopher Columbus. The badge which its operatives wear on their sleeves proudly proclaims "Master of Space". They pledge to protect military, civil and commercial highways to the moon and Mars, "like navies protecting sea commerce". But it's the line in the Space Command mission statement about "the ability to deny others the use of space" that sets my alarm bells ringing. It looks like humankind's first exports as space traders are going to be war and greed. If we consider Cassini as the stalling horse, the test case for military plutonium in space, then we have a good reason to stop the Saturn probe. Only Bill Clinton can actually nix Cassini, but we can let him know how we feel about it through our own Parliament, and the international letter- and card-writing campaign the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice is getting under way. Once I would have thought it ludicrous that my grandchildren might see Star Wars as a work of prophecy. More fool me!
LIKE I said, perhaps some stories are so big they encourage feelings of being ineffectual, rather than inspire activism. The US military-industrial complex is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. Fire it into space and it becomes even more elusive. But if you look back over recent history, you'll see that the righteous outrage of thousands of ordinary people can make a difference. Shell is under pressure from church pension funds and Pirc, the campaigning investment advisory service which holds 12 per cent of Shell's stock, to clarify its commitment to environmental protection and human rights. Shell's managing director supports such a commitment but the sticking point for the company, as with other multi-nationals that are trying to change their ways, is the issue of transparency, or how far to publicly open up their operations to verify that they are actually doing what they say they're doing. Pirc has proposed a resolution for the shareholders' meeting on May 14. Among its key points: make someone on the committee of managing directors personally responsible for seeing that Shell honours its commitments to the environment and human rights; establish an effective auditing process to guarantee that words and actions match; and publish a progress report to shareholders, specifically in relation to Shell's operations in Nigeria, by the end of 1997. Pirc is actually making Shell's life easier. If it adopts this resolution, the company won't have to lose any sleep about whether it really is turning its words into actions. What a drag then that the board of directors is advising shareholders to reject the resolution. Their action raises a rather obvious question: if you're giving transparency the thumbs-down, what do you have to hide? Still, even if Pirc's proposals aren't approved the mere fact that they have been made is cause for celebration. How often do you hear obligations to shareholders invoked as the reason why a company is unwilling to change? And yet here we are on the brink of an era where it is those very shareholders, and their pension funds, who are demanding ethical behaviour on the part of the companies they're investing in. I think such a shareholder revolution makes perfect sense. After all, how comfortable will your old age be if you're spending it perched on a nest egg feathered with blood money?Reuse content