Almost two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began, one of the greatest economic and environmental tragedies of the last twenty years (or longer) barely makes it onto the national radar screen these days. BP is running televised apologies within the Gulf region, and fines are expected to exceed $25 billion before all is said and done, but the reality on the ground remains grim for many Gulf coast residents whose livelihoods were disrupted or destroyed in the aftermath of the disaster.
The saddest part of all this is that most Americans outside the region couldn’t care less. We are all so dependent on cheap fossil fuel for every facet of our daily existence that we don’t dare contemplate the ugly reality of what our petroleum addicted economy is doing to our neighbors in oil producing regions of the world, and to the planet itself.
Since last May, there have been 19 debates among the GOP candidates (for president). According to the Washington Post transcripts, the total number of words spoken in those debates so far adds up to over 328,000… (b)ut few of those words have addressed the realities of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf… Total words devoted to talking about the BP disaster during the Republican debates so far: 307. (Facing South, 1/31,2012)
For whatever reason, Americans seem absolutely terrified of facing the truth: our petroleum addicted civilization is turning out to be a one-way ticket on the highway to Hell, and no one is brave enough to step on the brakes.
The Deepwater Horizon/BP event is symptomatic of a much bigger problem than just the safety issues surrounding oil production. That problem is greed.
Twenty-two years ago, ExxonMobil had it’s own brush with environmental infamy when the tanker ship Valdez ran aground in Alaska, causing similar economic damage to the affected communities and fouling miles of pristine coastal habitat. For their responsibility in the affair, Exxon was fined heavily, $92 million of which they steadfastly refuse to pay to this day; not because they can’t afford it, they simply don’t want to.
In its Sept. 30 court filing, Exxon argued the damages it agreed to pay only covers “restoration” and not additional “clean-up.” (Think Progress)
This from a company that had $11 billion cash on hand on the day of the filling, had the biggest profits of the Big Five oil companies last year, raking in a whopping $41.1 BILLION for the year, and uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying federal income taxes in the United States.
In case that figure blew past you the way it did me the first time through, $11 billion is eleven thousand million dollars. The remaining $92 million fine that Exxon is disputing is less than 1/120th of the CASH the corporation had on hand on September 3oth. What a petty bunch of greedy little children these sociopathic monsters are.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson reportedly took home $29 million in 2010: $2.2 million in salary, a $3.4 million bonus, and stocks valued at $15.5 million. Taking the lion’s share of his loot in the form of stocks helps keep him safely in the “Romney” tax bracket, somewhere south of 15%.
I’m picking on ExxonMobil because those are the figures I was able to find first, but rest assured, the same thing or worse is going on over at BP and the other big oil companies. These corporations have gotten away with murder, literally, for decades, knowing full well that our entire civilization needs their dirty, toxic product to maintain our relatively clean, easy lifestyle. As long as most of us, especially in North America and Europe, are relatively comfortable, they feel perfectly safe doing business they way they always have.
There’s one more depressing tidbit I’d like to drop in your lap before I finish here, and it may be the hardest pill of all to swallow. It didn’t have to be this way. The world didn’t have to become addicted to the toxic sludge we call fossil fuel, it was forced on us.
Science and industry developed alternatives to petroleum fuels, plastics, and pharmaceuticals almost a century ago, but those cleaner technologies were railroaded out of existence by politicians and propagandists willing to literally sell their own grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s futures for a few dollars and influence in their own time.
The situation persists to this day, and in fact has become even more entrenched than ever before. Our leaders, the men and women we elect to federal and state offices across this nation, have been and remain little more than whores for industrialists determined to squeeze out every last dime of profit from a dying planet, no matter what the cost to us all.
Worst of all perhaps, is that the political prostitutes come very very cheap. Last year alone, Exxon spent nearly $13 million on lobbying, and made almost another $900,000 in federal campaign contributions (92 percent to Republicans). That’s less than one dollar spent for every $3,000 of profit, to purchase favorable treatment and friendly legislators, from one corporation in one year. Now do you see, if there was ever any doubt, why we absolutely MUST remove the influence of money from our political process?
There are other ways to do many of the things we depend on oil for today. We may not be able to completely wean ourselves from petroleum use anytime soon, but we don’t have to remain slaves to the addiction. Alternatives exist, but the only way to get there from here is to demand a government that listens to and serves the 99% of us who do the work, and insist on free, open, and fair elections – with real choices. Otherwise, like all untreated junkies, we’re doomed to either die of overdose or to live out our days in the destitute misery of our addiction to oil.