On this, the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, hats off to Andy Bichlbaum for a brilliant bit of activist theater.  

Yesterday, the smooth-talking wag posed as a representative of Dow Chemical — which in 2001 bought Union Carbide, the culprit in the deadly Bhopal catastrophe — and got himself on BBC World TV news, where he announced that Dow was taking responsibility for the world’s worst environmental accident and would pay $12 billion to victims to make amends.

Of course, it was all a charade. Dow still denies any responsibility for the tragic pesticide-factory explosion and leak that killed some 20,000 Indians and maimed or sickened between 100,000 and 550,000 more. Union Carbide paid a measly $470 million to Bhopal residents in 1989, most of which has never even reached the devastated community members, and its parent company has no intention of handing out another penny.  (“$500 is plenty good for an Indian,” Dow PR flack Kathy Hunt famously said in 2002 of the amount earmarked for nearly 95 percent of the survivors.)

What’s so fiendishly clever about yesterday’s stunt is that Dow today had to come out and repeatedly tell everyone, loud and clear, that it has no intention whatsoever of doing another damn thing for the Bhopal victims.

At least one advocate for the victims saw the prank as malicious. Said Rachna Dhingra of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, “It is a cruel, cruel hoax to play on the people of Bhopal on the 20th anniversary of this tragedy.” And to the extent that it raised and then dashed the hopes of these horrifically abused people, she has a point.  

But for making Dow look like a bunch of capital A assholes in a hugely public way, I still tip my hat to Bichlbaum and his cohorts in the Yes Men, a group of “anti-corporate activist-pranksters.”

(For an all-too-serious look at the Bhopal disaster, read this compelling article by Mark Hertsgaard.)