WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 as a place to publish private and classified information from anonymous sources and whistleblowers. The site is run by a group of volunteers lead by Australian online activist Julian Assange. It operates under the slogan "We open governments." The site became a household name after it began to release some of the more than 251,287 leaked U.S. diplomatic cables allegedly submitted by U.S. soldier Bradley Manning.
Only a few of the cables have been released to date, but already they've included big news: The U.S. spied on top U.N. officials, that the U.S. has been secretly bombing Yemen and that Afghanistan has a corrupt government. On the environmental side, there have been a few important stories that have come to light. Following are some of the more important things we've learned.
The Dalai Lama thinks the world needs to focus on solving climate change
According to a leaked cable, in 2009 the Dalai Lama told the U.S. ambassador to India that solving global warming was more important than achieving political autonomy for Tibet and that America should work more closely with China to find a more effective international response. The exiled spiritual leader told Timothy Roemer, the U.S. ambassador to India, that a political solution for Tibet could wait five to 10 years but that "melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that cannot wait." Tibet has been occupied by China since the country was invaded by the People's Liberation Army in 1950. Since then the 75-year-old Dalai Lama has been the leading voice in the fight for Tibetan autonomy.
In the same meeting in which he pressed the U.S. to engage with China on climate change talks, the Dalai Lama also criticized the Chinese practice of building dams in Tibet that have displaced thousands of people and flooded villages, temples and monasteries. He recommended that China compensate Tibetans for disruption of their nomadic lifestyles by offering vocational training.
The Dalai Lama has spent most of his life fighting to free Tibet, so his words are telling. The geography of the region also backs up his suggestion: the Tibetan plateau feeds many of the worlds major river systems and if the country lost a significant number of glaciers to warming, there would be severe disruptions down river.
U.S. and China conspired to block global warming reform at the Copenhagen talks
The leaked cables show that in May 2009 in Beijing, Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang met with John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee (at right), to discuss how the two countries could coordinate their efforts during the talks. Kerry suggested that the two nations work out a "new basis for 'major cooperation' between the United States and China on climate change."
Kerry wasn't proposing that China and the U.S. do anything about climate change — just that they better manage their responses to ongoing efforts. Since those talks, China and the U.S. have been in lockstep in dodging any real binding responsibility for reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
BP had an oil blowout in Azerbaijan in 2008
In 2008, according to a memo leaked to WikiLeaks, BP suffered a massive gas blowout in Azerbaijan that was similar to the 2010 leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The leak didn't get much attention in the media at the time, but it was similar to the Gulf of Mexico leak. Both were blowouts — which is what happens when improperly pressurized gas overtakes the drilling mud used during production and causes havoc at the drilling platform — and that both were blamed by BP executives on a "bad cement job," referring to the special cement used to seal the space between the drill bore and the well's pipe casing.
The cable further revealed that the president of Azerbaijan believed that BP had exploited his country during a gas shortage in December 2006, when the company asked for an extension of a lucrative contract in exchange for supplying gasoline to the market.
The Azerbaijan blowout endangered the lives of the 212 workers on the platform (who were evacuated) and shut down two large fields, slashing production by at least 500,000 barrels a day for months.
Canadian officials were afraid that President Obama was too gung-ho about renewable energy
A January 2009 cable was directed to President Barack Obama ahead of his visit to Ottawa that warned that Canadian officials were concerned about the "implications for Canada" for his "energetic calls to develop renewable energies and reduce our reliance on imported oil."
The unnamed Canadian officials were keen on proceeding with the development of oil sands production in western Canada and were said to be sensitive to the "higher environmental footprint oil from western Canada's oil sands.”
The cable also seemed to infer that Canada has an inferiority complex about the U.S., something that was alleviated by Obama's decision to make Canada his first foreign visit after taking office. In a cable to the president, U.S. diplomats in Ottawa said:
"Your decision to make Ottawa your first foreign destination as president will do much to diminish — temporarily, at least — Canada's habitual inferiority complex vis-a-vis the U.S. and its chronic but accurate complaint that the U.S. pays far less attention to Canada than Canada does to us."
Obama leaned on the Saudis to get behind the Copenhagen Accord
In a clear sign of the schizophrenic nature of world diplomacy, just as the Obama administration was colluding with China to dodge binding restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, it was pressuring the Saudis to agree to the non-binding Copenhagen Accord.
The Saudis weren't excited about the idea of signing the accord but were afraid that they would miss "a real opportunity to submit 'something clever,' like India or China, that was not legally binding but indicated some goodwill towards the process without compromising key economic interests."
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Click for photo credits
Dalai Lama: Associated Press
John Kerry: ZUMA Press
Oil machinery: Governmentality/Flickr
Obama and Stephen Harper: ZUMA Press
Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: ZUMA Press