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Our Times 3

Fouling the human nest

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  • “After the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents – including paying for all cleanup – with oversight by federal agencies. BP has tried and failed several times to halt the gushers. A pelican colony off Louisiana’s coast was awash in oil Saturday, and an Associated Press photographer saw several birds and their eggs coated in the ooze while nests rested in mangroves precariously close to the crude that had washed in.” – AP May 23, 2010

  • Fear, loathing and vulnerability overpowered me as oil and gas poured from the BP well hole. The oil company used chemicals to stem the flow (thus far unsuccessful), which further imperiled the ecology of Gulf waters and nearby land. More than 5,000 barrels “spewing 5,000 feet down in the gulf accounts for only two minutes of oil consumption in the state of Texas.” (Maureen Dowd, NY Times May 26)

The media and politicians play blame games. BP’s greed led to negligence, arrogance, and irresponsibility! BP blames the drilling contractors! The government failed to regulate this monster industry because giant oil companies had effectively bought officials and agencies! “(Y)ou can’t help but wonder how a company like BP with its awful record of incompetence and irresponsibility, was allowed to drill for oil a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico.” (Bob Herbert, NY Times, May 25). And so on.

After numerous oil spills (BP’s has caused more damage than previous ones), one might expect the media and politicians to pose the obvious question: What other species has chosen a system requiring energy and resource producers to shit in our collective nest? Did the world’s majority inspire the poetic Sarah Palin to chant her political mantra: Drill Baby Drill? “I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry,” wrote Steve Kraske in the Kansas City Star (May 1) reporting on a Palin speech in Kansas City promoting drilling. “We’ve got to tap domestically because energy security will be the key to our prosperity.” Sarah now knocks BP. Sarah served on Alaska’s energy commission while BP splashed 200,000 gallons onto the white tundra. Her husband worked for BP. Sarah made $1000,000 for the speech.

As more than 70 million gallons (official estimate as of May 25) polluted the water and surrounding wetlands and marshes, oily politicians defended continuing drilling in the Gulf. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) evoked divine causes. “From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented.” When reporters questioned his statement, and argued that had BP heeded advice, the “Godly act” might not have occurred, the Governor clarified. Act of God means, “nobody knows what happened. Look up the definition of ‘Act of God’ and reporters will find it refers to an accident.

The Lone Star Project Democrats said the Governor suffered from “detached arrogance.” The governor’s main concern, to continue drilling off shore, showed lack of respect for “the families of those who died and the victims of the environmental damage,” said Lone Star spokesman Matt Angle. The people “deserve a full accounting for the human errors that caused the failure at the rig.” (Telegraph, May 5, 2010)

Governor Perry fits Thomas B. Reed’s adage: a man who “never open his mouth without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

BP combats its long record of spilling and “God-caused mistakes,” like not paying for safety measures, by buying full page ads in the NY Times assuring everyone (few readers live in the affected areas) that BP has done everything possible to clean up, that it takes responsibility and will solve the problem. BP fans might also believe Obama was born in Kenya like FDR.

The oil disaster followed last year’s coal mining tragedy (regular occurrences in coal mines everywhere). The media doesn’t report on Salvadoran gold mines leaching cyanide into rivers and surrounding soil, or uranium mines everywhere causing cancer in miners. The production-consumption system depletes its own resource base and fouls its larger environment to the danger point. Yet, denial prevails, especially if Tiger is giving a press conference.

Look at the skylines of the world’s major cities: large buildings in which little useful gets produced. Examine transportation: individuals drive petroleum-burning vehicles and line up for traffic jams to and from work, school and shopping, where people buy petroleum-based products whose production emits dangerous foul gases.

Melville’s Moby Dick warned: Observe Nature’s limits. Science will not solve problems caused by science for the purpose of “progress.”

“Such developments as the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico show how little the governments can do against those in control of capital,” wrote Fidel Castro in a [May Reflection] (http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/reflexiones/2010/ing/f070510i.html). The giant corporation “in the United States and in Europe, through the economy of our globalized planet, decide the fate of the people.”

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. Get his films on DVD at Round World Productions.

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