Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Oil Spills, Earthquakes, Climate Change, and Hurricanes Don’t Matter

This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the July 2010 issue of The Four Marks.  For more information on The Four Marks, please click here.  I apologize that I have not mastered footnotes in blogger yet, so I have used asterisks and hashmarks instead.


When I’ve spoken about the oil spill to numerous friends and colleagues, I’ve witnessed a type of dialogue I’ve rarely seen – one in which the talking points of the right, left, and even the center seem wanting, and in which friends of liberal bent seem open to solutions like a low-yield tactical nuclear device. Let’s, as Lewis Carroll’s Alice did, begin at the beginning.

***

Why do we have 4000* oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico?

We want and need oil. Despite talk of wind and solar power, neither sun nor air shall power our vehicles, help manufacture our shoes, clothing, and containers, nor will they provide soil fertilizer for our crops. Oil, for better or worse, is a very integrated part of our way of life. The problem of oil is so often seen from the myopic viewpoint of the cost of gasoline.

We are drilling in the Gulf so that we don’t have to drill on land. West Texas alone would slake our dark thirst, were it not for the fact that oddly enough, it is cheaper to drill offshore instead of pounding through the thick rock and sediment and paying the high taxes associated with land drilling.

Why did the oil spill happen in the first place?

Well, oil spills are neither a rarity nor commonplace. They seem to happen irregularly. I still remember when our flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was diverted to Anchorage when one of the passengers suffered a medical emergency; I was transfixed by the disaster that was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The water had this pacified and black look to it, and nothing seemed to move. Prince William Sound almost seemed aware of its inky black cloak, and like Prince Hamlet, was content to sulk and seethe in sadness and anger.

It is becoming clear to those of us who bother to look outside the controlled corporate mainstream media (Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, etc.) that there are some disturbing “coincidences” that dovetail with the Deepwater Horizon explosion:

1. Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, dumped 1/3 of his holdings (1.4 million pounds sterling) in BP weeks before the oil spill, a move that avoided over £423,000 in losses.#

2. Goldman Sachs dumped over 40% of its holdings in BP in the first quarter.**

3. BP was aware of problems at that site up to two months prior to the blowout.##

Ever mindful of the thoughtless and useless label “conspiracy theory” I will simply point out that you don’t have to have an overarching “what really happened” vision to know that these are strange events to happen in sync. Add this to an agency whose idea of “regulation” is drinking and copulating with the executives they are supposed to be monitoring*** and you have an explosion waiting to happen. And it did.

So, supervised by, and accountable to, no one, BP, (not British Petroleum, Mr. President – even a five-second search on Google could have told you otherwise and saved you from a firestorm in the British Press. Weren’t you supposed to be so smart?) through gross negligence, allowed this spill to happen.

Now, the big question is, if there is a link behind all of these coincidences, cui bono? Some are intriguing that this serves as a distraction from upcoming wars in Iran and North Korea, or as political cover for a carbon tax. But I find none of these explanations particularly compelling, in light of the fact that BP had to dirty the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, risk a massive public backlash, and pay out, over $29M### so far (but that is really an oil drop in an ocean for a company with a market cap of $99B, and that’s after $7B in losses in the past weeks.). What might be more terrifying than the oil spill is the yet-unknown reason why BP allowed it to happen.

What can be done?

Apparently, nothing. (As this column goes to press, BP has tried over 7 very public ways to deal with the blowout. All have failed.) Rachel Maddow, not exactly a raving conservative, had a moment of clarity last week on her show when in a faux redux of Obama’s yawningly dull Oval Office address, she pledged to “never again allow a company to drill at such a depth unless it could guarantee that it could fix a disaster.” This common sense aside, I think it is a clarion moment for us. Yes, we don’t know everything. Yes, the earth is sometimes beyond our control. Yes, we own the earth, we aren’t just renters. Yes, you break it, you bought it.

Future Policy and the Road Ahead

Well, clearly the road ahead cannot be guided by the right or the left (but alas, it will). The left tells us “no more drilling” just before dashing off to another location on a NetJet. The right says, in its laissez-faire absurdity, “accidents happen.” (I grieved, but was not surprised to hear this nostrum from a Republican friend.) The truth, more than ever, is that Almighty God gave us stewardship not only over the animals, but also over the earth and its elements. The title of this piece mentions earthquakes, climate change, and hurricanes because I see them as connected with the oil spill. Surely, earthquakes happen, hurricanes roar, and climate change occurs (yet who would Al Gore have blamed for the Ice Age, I wonder) because our earth is a dynamic, powerful, and beautiful God-designed masterpiece. But can’t we shape our response to these disasters, human and natural, with common sense?

Haiti

This country was broken and ruled by corrupt despot strong-men long before the earthquake happened. Haiti, already forgotten by our move-on-to-the-next-thing 24 hour media, won’t be fixed by money and aid. Money only makes embedded corruption worse (op. cit. Hamid Karzai and his US-backed group of Afghan thugs and drug dealers).

Hurricanes

Why in God’s name do we allow people to build homes in areas of Florida that are so routinely ravaged by hurricanes that insurance companies won’t touch them with a 1000-foot pole? Private profit gauged against public risk, a dogma enshrined in the backed-by-both-parties Bailouts, is never more ridiculous as when people in Kansas have to pay for poor regulatory policies in Florida via FEMA aid.

Climate Change

Despite the delicious irony of this year’s climate change conference being held in Amsterdam in one of the coldest winters in its recorded history, some men, filled with hubris, still think that mankind has a key role in changing temperatures on this planet. This attitude, despite the fact that the planet has survived for many years without our help and may survive for many years after we have managed to kill each other off completely, and despite the fact that one explosion from a major volcano can create more carbon monoxide than the cars in Los Angeles can generate in 20 years, is very chic among the degenerates who read trash like The New Yorker. Temperatures on a planet change over time. Note to creationist-hating pseudo-intellectuals: check your science books.

The carbon tax was crafted by elites to benefit elites. It does nothing to address climate change and enshrines the absurdity of taxing something that every human produces every moment of their waking existence and which plants require in order to live!

***

We can’t stop using oil. We use too much of it. But perhaps that is the greatest lesson of the oil spill. As we are overwhelmed by the massive life-disruptions to hundreds of thousands who make their livings from the Gulf, and the millions more who will be affected in yet-undiscovered butterfly effect sequences, we would do well to ask ourselves how we can live a more sustainable lifestyle. Certainly not through thoughtless boycotts of BP gas stations (a move that hurts our neighbors more than it hurts BP), or raving that we will never drill again. Logically, it will be through making our lives more local – more tied to our communities, so that when disaster strikes us at home, we won’t be so far from help, as it seems our fellow citizens on our southern coasts are. We can’t plan for disaster, but we can plan to make its impact, when it happens, much less drastic.

FOOTNOTES

* www.csmonitor.com/2005/0726/p03s01-usgn.html
# www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/7804922/BP-chief-Tony-Hayward-sold-shares-weeks-before-oil-spill.html
** http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0602/month-oil-spill-goldman-sachs-sold-250-million-bp-stock/
## www.prisonplanet.com/bp-aware-of-cracks-in-oil-well-two-months-before-explosion.html
*** www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/washington/11royalty.html?_r=1
### www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/bp-has-paid-29-million-in_n_590411.html

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