Home > Economics, Green Planet, Politics > “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

“What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

Over the weekend I had been putting together my thoughts in response to the “Big Slick” disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  Prior to jotting down my reaction, I wanted to move past my emotive response and approach this disaster in what hopefully can be a constructive manner. When I arrived in my New Orleans hotel on April 21st, the lobby’s TV was trumpeting the story of a rig explosion/fire transpiring not too far off the shores of Louisiana.  It seemed like a sad, albeit local story.  By the time I arrived home just one week later, we started learning the truth.  This is a horrible disaster of catastrophic proportions and the implications reach far wider than the dollar costs being slung around so freely by the media today.  “Big Slick” is a human and environmental disaster that will have far reaching consequences for a long time.  Anyone who does not realize that at this point in time is simply missing the point.

That being said, I want to start by stating my conclusion: we must pass a windfall tax on oil companies.  Australia helped state my case in a big way this morning in announcing a tax on mining/resource expropriation companies.  The naysayers and businessmen warn about the economic losses of such a tax.  In a globalized world resource expropriation companies will move elsewhere.  I want to stop this bullshit (yes I’m pissed off about this whole thing!) before it starts moving too far.  These very same naysayers are the ones who invest in resource companies because they acknowledge the scarcity of resources on Planet Earth.  At the end of the day, there is a finite amount of oil, copper, iron ore, etc.  This will not change.  The end game is not to find more of these resources, that is merely a means to an end.  The end game is consuming these resources in the most efficient manner possible while trying to find alternatives–i.e. progress.  We must progress beyond short-term consumption tendencies.

Just a few weeks ago, a Chinese shipping company transporting resources from Australia to China, in an effort to save time and to reduce its shipping costs, veered 12 kilometers outside of predesignated shipping channels.  In doing so, the ship crashed into the Great Barrier Reef and punctured its fuel tank, while in the process causing an environmental disaster in its own right.  To Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is a priceless resource to be enjoyed and treasured in its own special way.  The Reef is a priceless commodity in its own right owned, shared and treasured by Australians and just about every other citizen of Planet Earth alike.  The companies who expropriate commodities and raw materials from countries–especially foreign companies who have no connection to the localities–worry about their profits, not the externalities of their actions.

See in reality the supply/demand equilibrium of natural resources does not reflect one of the major costs of the expropriation.  That is the cost borne by the processes themselves, as well as the risks of a mishap in the expropriation.  The Great Barrier Reef is just one example in Australia of a huge cost that must be borne by everyone with the profits concentrated in the few; the Massey coal mine explosion/mountain-top mining destruction are another example; and this BP oil slick is unfortunately the largest such example that our Planet has witnessed.  Unfortunately everyday life has become such an abstraction such that often times sustenance and day-to-day problems become so removed from the very source of our being that we as people underestimate and miscalculate the risks of damage to Earth itself.  We can “drill baby drill” all we want, but if doing so destroys one of our abundant food sources it is just not worth it.

What pisses me off most about this BP disaster is that for a mere $500,000–yes, you’re reading that right, for a mere five zeroes, BP could have avoided a disaster that is costing the company itself $6 million a day and our country a sum that is yet to be determined.  There is a direct connection between a disregard for the environment and a disregard for safety and human life.  It is no surprise we saw both Massey Energy’s coal mine disaster and BP’s oil rig explosion at the same time.  Massey has a long-standing history of skimping on safety requirements–both human and ecological–and BP too has a history of its own on that front–a 2005 Texas refinery explosion and a 2006 pipeline spill in Alaska.

Progress and economic growth will come through finding a way to live in harmony with the planet that gives us our life.  Without a proper balance between the expropriation of its abundant resources and a concern for its health we cannot continue to increase the quality of life for all of humankind.  It is in the economic interest of oil companies to not only minimize expenses on safety procedures but also to spend significant sums of money trying to disprove that global warming results from fossil fuel emissions.  They themselves take in all the economic benefit at a minimal cost.  Is this really how we want “capitalism” to work?  Can one truly say that these are efficient allocations of resources and capital on a societal level?

The Great Depression had its Dust Bowl and unfortunately this Great Recession has its Big Slick.  This will have major consequences on food supplies, the unemployment picture and our way of life.  We can only hope that the impact does not spread, however, those hopes appear nothing more than a leap of faith.  As the drama was playing out, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward was quoted as saying “what the hell did we do to deserve this?”  Well Mr. Hayward, you did plenty!  This quote evokes a sense of karma.  This has everything to do with karma!  All the bad that your company has done is now coming back to bite it in the behind.   Rather than worry about your company’s reputation, I ask you, “what the FUCK did we do to deserve this?”  Step up the rhetoric and get angry at these people.  It is not a fair trade to risk our ecosystem for one economic sector’s profits.

And while we’re at it, people need to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh and his teabagger cohorts who are saying “well maybe this is ecoterrorism or North Korea.”  Where that argument totally loses is that for a mere $500,000 a rig explosion could have happened, but a massive spill would not have.  BP itself ADMITTED responsibility already.  Is that not enough?  They acknowledge they screwed up.  It’s hard enough to get Goldman Sachs to do the same with the evidence so strongly positioned against it.   Companies do not voluntarily take blame unless it is so incredibly clear they deserve it.

We as a society should not stand for this anymore.  It should not be ok for companies to make massive profits at the expense of society at large.  Additionally, it should now be clear to everyone that following this disaster, the economic efficiency of an offshore windmill farm is far more advantageous than “drill baby drill.”  Rather than planting more drilling rigs along the Eastern Seaboard, we should be redirecting more money away from fossil fuel consumption and towards alternative energy.  Even without oil spills fossil fuels cause massive harm to environment (cough cough GLOBAL WARMING).  It should now be more clear than ever that a windfall profit tax on energy companies makes sense–it would kill two birds with one stone.  Such a tax would mitigate the environmental and economic risks to society of expropriation, while simultaneously raising the funds needed to advance our alternative technologies.  It would reallocate capital in a more efficient and beneficial way.  Just like Australia is now demanding compensation for the risks of expropriation and the damage done, so too must we.  No longer can we sit idly by.

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