Last Thursday, keynote speakers from ExxonMobil and the National Petroleum Council addressed 300 of the Canadian oil industry’s top players at GoExpo, a giant symposium in Calgary’s Stampede Park.
Their topic was Vivoleum, a trade name for fuel-oil rendered from human bodies.
Explaining that Exxon-sponsored dirty fuel projects like Canada’s tar sands and US liquefied coal will accelerate global warming, potentially causing millions of deaths, industry representatives outlined a plan to use all those dead bodies to maintain energy supplies and protect profits.
“Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production,” said Exxon rep Florian Osenberg.
“With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.
“We need something like whales, but infinitely more abundant,” added NPC rep Shepard Wolff.
If you’ve caught on by now that this was an elaborate anti-corporate hoax, you did much better than the oilmen and oilwomen at the conference, who sat attentively through a power-point presentation on Exxon’s new Vivoleum plant.
Osenberg and Wolff are really prankster activists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, also known as the Yes Men.
It was only the final, most outrageous feature of the prank that alerted conference organizers.
Bichlbaum and Bonnano passed around candles they claimed had been made from Vivoleum — actually made from paraffin wax and human hair collected from barbershops.
As the room began to stink of burning hair the presenters played a video of the supposed donor, an Exxon janitor who, dying of cancer because of an accident at the plant, had volunteered to donate his body to the Vivoleum project.
It was only then that the room, or at least someone in the room, caught on.
The Yes Men were escorted from the stage, and Calgary police were called.
The police saw no reason to prosecute the pranksters, though the humiliated conference organizers were baying for blood.
“They thought we should be charged with crimes against humanity or something,” said Bichlbaum.
“The police were great. They were just going to let us go, but the organizers insisted we be charged with criminal trespass.”
Photographs taken during the time of the presentation offer no indication that the audience knew they were being hoaxed.
They sit in thoughtful, attentive poses, apparently quite enthused at the idea of a new, hitherto-unexploited energy source.
Worse, it appears that organizers may have invited the pair after reading about Vivoleum on their web page.
The whole story would be very funny if human grease had never been rendered for profit, but it has, and in quite recent memory.
The Yes Men didn’t pull their prank to make the oilfolk look like flesh-boiling Nazis.
They did it to draw attention to the fact that 150,000 people a year already die from the effects of climate change, and Canadian and American oil companies lobby fiercely for the right to make matters worse.
The oil sands project is insane, and should never have gone ahead using currently available technology.
Northern Alberta’s environment may never recover from the assault, the greenhouse gas emissions are outrageous, and by the time it’s extracted and refined, the net energy gain from all this destruction is zero.
On top of all that it’s being supported by huge no-strings tax breaks.
The people who run the tar sands project may not be ready to begin rendering human bodies for profit, but they are quite willing to destroy the health of aboriginal Canadians living downstream from the sands, who are now reporting unprecedented rates of rare cancers.
They are willing to decimate Alberta’s boreal forest, to dispossess its people and to risk the planet’s future, all in the name of a quick buck and to fuel the biggest war machine in history.
While it must have been a shock when conference-goers realized exactly what they’d been fed with the Vivoleum hoax, it may not have sounded much different from past presentations justifying vile corporate crimes.
Remember that Exxon is the company that spent $19 million on a campaign to undermine climate-change science, successfully putting off for years the task of reducing emissions that bid fair to destroy us all.
Those campaigners in their day made straight-faced presentations to just such sympathetic audiences, claiming that global warming was a socialist hoax.
Other presenters at other conferences have proven the profitability of turning lakes into slagheaps and forests into strip mines.
They’ve shown that downstream health risks are either mythical or insignificant, that only the swift and unencumbered exploitation of all remaining fossil fuel reserves can supply the world’s energy needs, and that environmental safeguards will kill the economy.
In short, they have listened politely and attentively while paid industry experts concocted mountains of evil lies. To put their trust in Vivoleum was just another step down that road.
And it’s not just the oilfolk. The whole country’s been doing it. We’ve sat back and let a succession of governments form energy policy based on the demands of a rapacious industry, and with negligible concern for the future of the species.
For far too long, we’ve let government and industry get away with calling this ‘prosperity’ and ‘a booming economy,’ when we know it’s the march to Armageddon.
If we keep on marching, sooner or later making fuel out of bodies might not seem so far fetched at all.