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The Dust Bowl was ignored until politicians themselves were choking on the dust in DC. What will it take to change our petroleum policies?

After years of ignorant abuse of the earth, “Black Sunday” hit on April 14, 1935.

In previous months, Hugh Bennett of the Department of Agriculture had been the first to declare that this was a looming disaster and mostly man-made, but no one in power would support his concerns.  He was in the middle of giving a speech to a mostly unresponsive congress demanding they do something about the mess, when the windows went black with dust from the western wasteland.  It was the worst dust storm the nation had seen and pushed the otherwise lazy, greedy and short-sited culture to acknowledge the damage they had done.  Today the oil shows up in Louisiana, then the Keys.  This spill is horrific.  Every politician and American who had looked the other way in facing our addiction to oil and profits over conservation could use some face to face time with this spill.  Perhaps when it rolls onto the feet, fancy suits and manicured lawns of politicians and businessmen on the East Coast, we might, might see some change.

Now, after Deep Horizon well has been bleeding countless thousands of crude into the ocean, many opposed to criticism of the industry will demand a list of specific measures which should have been undertaken to improve the cleanup, arguing that “they did all they could” or “mistakes happen.”  Thank you Kentucky Tea Bagger Rand Paul for voicing such short-sightedness in his delicate critique of the Administration.  Citing Obama’s reponse to the spill as “really Un-American in his criticism of business,” Paul added, “I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be somebody’s fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

Not being a petroleum engineer, nor a politician familiar with the oversight of these operations, I don’t know much about what specifically could been done to prevent this fuckup. But it seems to me, as someone who drills holes into things on a fairly regular basis, that if you stand to make millions doing it, but can’t be bothered with how to do it correctly or spend the money to ensure that it’s done correctly, then you’re a dickhead and a fool. When this dickheadery and foolishness is the industry standard… and in fact business spends a good deal on making sure they can spend as little as possible to keep the process “just safe enough”… things go wrong on a large scale.

The problem is ultimately demand for petroleum products and a market which promotes prices which are unrelated to the toll on the environment actually incurred by their extraction, processing and use. Similar to cheap food that gives you cancer, we as a society fail to the see the actual cost of loss and repercussions surrounding the oil industry, and simply whine and complain when gas prices are too high, or the businesses that prosper from this technology are forced to take a financial hit. BP will never be able to pay for the damage from this spill, as ecological loss is not a monetary loss, and remains irreversible even if partially repairable.

There are many guilty parties here, including, in a very real sense, those civilians who do not take these repercussions into account when making everyday decisions about use. BUT, there are some royally fucked up situations, such as the one before us in this spill, where at some point, specific people decided or were told to make decisions which would put the people and environment of that area in real risk in order to avoid investment in proper safeguards and/or alternatives to what now (and for some time) should be unequivocally seen as a destructive technology.

Set morality aside and we’re still left with a very very incompetent company chasing profits and neglecting stakeholders.

Posted in Sustainable Business.

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5 Responses

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  1. John Stoner says


    there’s blame, which is politically useful, but backward looking and not particularly productive. And there’s responsibility, which is forward looking and much more important.

    I’m much more concerned with who will take (or be assigned) responsibility, that is, who takes charge of cleanup, who pays the bill, and who makes the fishermen and those who depend on the Gulf ecology whole.

    I’m not exactly a libertarian, but I’ll give them this: under their scheme, there would be no federally-mandated liability caps, because the federal government would not have the authority to make one. So this issue of $75 million vs $20 billion would be immaterial–they could be put out of business by the lawsuits. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that.

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