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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oil Stained Hands


above: the author, Wes Bishop

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"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red."

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 2.2

Wes Bishop condemns BP for the catastrophic oil spill off the US east coast, and calls for them to be held to account. But more than this, he argues that all Americans must now also take responsibility by demanding from their politicians proper regulation of the sector.

During the final year that George W. Bush was in office, Americans all felt the squeeze at the pump as oil prices skyrocketed. Yet, as the 2008 election ended and new political leaders readied themselves for the oath of office, Americans witnessed the downward spiral of gas prices. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, many began to feel comfortable in thinking that the country had paid its final price to out of control oil companies.

Then 2010 arrived.

Although the world wide recession is still keeping gas prices moderately low, Americans and people all over the world will soon feel the crippling crush the oil companies can unleash. Unfortunately, this time the charge will not be four dollars a gallon, but instead billions in cleanup, billions in lost revenue for other industries, and the incalculable cost of destroying our aquatic and costal habitats.

I speak of nothing other than the 2010 BP Oil Spill.

By now the storyline that has emerged is known by anyone with cable television. In late April an explosion occurred on an oil rig that had ties to BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. Eleven workers were killed, and the initially optimistic reports peddled by the companies in question were found to be lies.

Instead of five thousand barrels it has been discovered that for nearly two months over twelve thousand barrels a day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

The environmental and economic consequences of this disaster, that still has not been resolved, will take years to repair. So enormous are the ramifications of this disaster that commentators are at a loss to describe to the public exactly what is occurring.

However, one thing that is crystal is the problems that led to the disaster occurring in the first place. So far much of the criticism that has been brought forward against the companies has been dismissed as playing a guilt game. This line of thinking holds that it is more important to solve the problem then it is to point fingers. Although this is true the public should not be fooled into letting the guilty off the line. There is no argument that hind sight is twenty/twenty, nor that everyone is perfect and that mistakes will never occur. But it is insane to openly know what caused this disaster and do nothing about it.

This essay will look at the true problems that caused the spill of 2010. Yet, before people start easing themselves into preparation of an article that will run circles around a big corporation, know that the real problems that caused the spill did not come from BP. It did not come from any corporation. It did not come from any government. Instead, the problems that led to the spill came from the everyday citizen of the United States.

Yes, the government deregulated the oil industry.

Yes, BP cut safety measures to make a profit.

Yes, the government, including President Obama, only months before had been pushing for more off shore drilling instead of making the necessary choices to move forward with energy.

These are all true, but they all exist because people tolerate them.

The government deregulated the oil industry, not only because of money from special interest, but also because people believe that it is better for a company to regulate itself then it is for an objective third party. BP cut safety measures to make a profit, but Americans have shown themselves to be more interested in cheap products then high environmental standards. The government is still dragging its feet to fix the energy crisis we are all barreling towards, but many Americans want to ignore everything that is being said by scientist in favor of what fairy tale is being spun by paid liars.

All of these things point to the conclusion that our problems are not being caused by corrupt companies, or corrupt governments. Instead this suggests that our problems are coming from a crisis of philosophy that is blinding us to the obvious.

Well into the middle of the crisis Rand Paul, a candidate for the office of Senator, told cameras that the government had no business interfering with this crisis. He even went so far as to say that it was un-American of President Obama to hold the companies responsible.

Many have defended this position as a respectable stance of libertarianism. Somehow this philosophy has convinced people that BP really does have the right to do as it wants. That it is somehow BP’s oil, not the peoples, and therefore everyone should shut up and allow the free market to work.

Yet, the oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico, and soon the Atlantic Ocean, does not belong to BP. It communally belongs to the people of the United States. Granted, if certain conservative elements in the United States had their way the oil would belong to private industry, but as of now natural resources still belong to every person of a nation. When individuals make the case that we do not have the right to regulate how a private company behaves with natural resources they are sorely mistaken. We have every right to decide how, when, and where a company extracts those materials.

BP pays the United States government to go in and retrieve oil, with the understanding that it is going to be able to sell that resource for a profit.

However the question begs to be asked, why should the American citizen need to pay for something they own?

The answer given by many is that the American citizen has to pay BP because BP is the one that refines the oil. BP is the one who paid for the permit. And BP is the one that takes a risk on retrieving the oil. Many of these answers are interesting for the assumptions they make. Overhanging all of them is the Chicago School of Economics idea that private industry is the best equipped to handle any type of service, and that if government were involved it would simply interfere, and be inadequate.

Yes, one sees the logic to this statement. If the government were to retrieve the oil then it might engage in risky practices and cause a monumental oil spill that would wreck havoc on local and national economies and environments.

Also, BP is not engaging in any risk. By paying off legislators, who then lower the level of money the company has to contribute to fix a spill, companies and law makers have made it much more attractive to cut regulations, engage in risk, and then write off failure on the tax payer.

Enraged? According to many “libertarians” you have no right to be. The free market will work, they say, to re-establish balance. However, what they are not saying is that the free market is working to balance budget books, not common welfare or the greater good.

In the Banking Crisis of 2008 private industry failed as well, and needed the government to interfere to fix their mistakes.

This time the private industry does not necessarily need government interference to survive. What government interference is needed for is to ensure that the spill is contained and that people, guilty of nothing, do not become financially ruined for another’s actions.

Unlike the financial industry oil companies will never have to worry about being swept aside, because everyone needs the product they sell. What is so darkly amusing is that the oil companies own this monopoly because we give them the access to the natural resources, they make a profit, and then use that profit to buy off our politicians to ensure that only favorable regulations are passed, that the monopoly continues, and that we are held captive by their price games.

This time it was an oil spill in the Gulf, next time it could be, if certain forces have their way, a nuclear meltdown in the heartland of America, or some other horror brought on by out of check greed.

Unchecked companies and capitalism will not save America, nor will it move it into a secure future. Humans will perpetually suffer the same fates as long as they repeat the same follies. We have repeatedly seen what occurs when powerful corporations are permitted to cut corners. We have repeatedly seen what happens when the government and big companies become too close. Time and again this lesson has been slapped in the face of everyone, and time and again it has been ignored. Like children with a lit stove we, for some reason, have not learned the lesson of getting burned. And like children we continue to cry when we inflict pain on ourselves by not being more careful. We scorn those who warn us, and we play with fire.

Make no mistake, I am all for prescribing blame on BP but like the Scottish Queen of Shakespearian lore, we all have blood (or in this case) oil stained hands. We can, like the dramatic character, attempt to scrub ourselves clean, but we are quickly running out of pure water to do so. Only by re-examining our philosophies will we ensure true regulation, and prevention of such disasters.

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