Between climate change and the galloping destruction of biodiversity, ecological disaster is now a permanent state of affairs rather than a transient event. However, this year’s unprecedentedly calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy of BP, the self-proclaimed champion of clean energy production, marks a major milestone on the fast track to ecocide.
Ecosystems have remarkable regenerative powers, but at the relentless rate at which humankind is assaulting them, they cannot recover. And for the most part, corporations and governments simply don’t care: nothing is allowed to stand in the way of profits, pressure from lobbyists, or popularity with voters.
2010 was proclaimed the International Year of Biodiversity, and the news this year could hardly be worse. The recently issued third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook of the Convention on Biological Diversity documents a precipitous decline of plant and animal species resulting from such human activity as habitat destruction and overfishing. Despite this, at the recent meeting in Qatar of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, humanity’s representatives deliberately defeated proposals to ban trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna and polar bears – species on the precipice of extinction. And it sure isn’t only in Japan (the most ardent campaigner against any strictures on fishing bluefin into oblivion) that perception of short-term gain trumps the certainty of long-term pain.
The global oil industry’s untrammelled quest to find new sources of the black gold to which our species is addicted is a case in point.
Some 70,000 barrels of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico every day since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and all attempts to stanch the toxic flow have thus far failed. The chemical dispersants being deployed may prove just as environmentally noxious as the oil itself. The fragile coastal wetlands, already under siege by development and erosion, are in danger of suffocating. Turtles, alligators, dolphins, whales, birds, fish, an extraordinary variety of plant life, are all victim to our heedless plunder.
Predictably, as the disaster unfolds, we are treated to the spectacle of corporate executives from three of the companies involved in the drilling operation shirking responsibility by casting blame on one another. Wherever legal liability lies, what is clear is the deleterious impact of a lack of state regulation of industry: U.S. regulators do not require the use of remote-control shut-off devices such as those mandatory on offshore rigs in Norway and Brazil which many experts agree would have limited the damage wrought by this spill.
You’d think a disaster of this magnitude would at least constrain the conduct of business as usual. Yet right on the heels of the BP disaster, Chevron Canada has begun sinking the deepest oil well in Canadian waters, in an area 430 kilometres northeast of St. John’s bearing the portentous name of Orphan Basin, known for violent storms. The CBC reported, apparently without irony, that “the company is promising to be careful.”*
No amount of caution can make deepwater drilling truly safe. The only ecologically responsible course of action is to ban it. But as Eric Reguly observed in the Globe and Mail on May 13: “Drilling bans will not come. The predicted slowdown in the offshore industry’s growth will not happen. The reason is simple: Offshore is where the oil is.”
Unless we change the prevailing logic so as to ensure that the ecosystems and habitats of this planet are treated as the precious substrate of our existence and not just a repository of resources to be exploited at will, the biosphere will stand about as much chance as a brown pelican in an oil slick.
*For incisive commentary, see the looncanada’s recent blogpost
This article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Canadian Dimension (Queer 2).