Month 5, Day 17: I’m Glad I’m Not Plankton

The latest news from the Gulf is that lots of the oil has been whacked by huge quantities of toxic dispersants, which appear to be making it vanish from the surface, but collect somewhere below. Meanwhile, oil gushing out of the pipe on the ocean floor is collecting in enormous blobs that are going to wipe out entire ecosystems. The LA Times did a little piece about it, so I wrote them a little letter.

While British Petroleum claims success at trapping a fraction of the oil pouring out of its broken pipe, it has steadily refused requests from scientists who want to obtain accurate measurements of the flow. It’s not hard to see why: BP will be liable for massive cleanup expenses, and ambiguous measurements are in their corporate self-interest. The corporation’s estimates are almost certainly an order of magnitude too low. As Boxall and Semuels point out, much of the resulting pollution appears to be remaining below the surface, where it is likely to decimate the extraordinary aquatic life of the Gulf of Mexico’s unique ecosystems. Recovery may take decades, if it happens at all — and what price can be put on vulnerable ecosystems? The whole catastrophe illuminates a simple fact: if the price of oil included the cost of cleaning up after a disaster, there would be no such thing as cheap gasoline.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 14: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

Two articles in the NYT. One is a generic piece on the Kerry/Lieberman Climate/Energy Bill (sigh). The other notes that BP doesn’t want to know how much oil they’re releasing. Of course there are people who are making estimates that are closer to reality than the figures the Oil Flacks are giving out, but they’re all Dirty F**king Hippies, so the hell with them.

The oil corporations are demonstrating that given a loose regulatory environment, they will behave like rabid skunks on speed. I fear for us all; I cannot really begin to imagine what it will take to rein them in at this point. Jail time in a maximum security prison for all their chief executives would help.

We discover with depressing regularity that corporations are adept at minimizing, denying or shirking their responsibilities. B.P.’s unwillingness to engage scientific specialists in measuring the size of its oily underwater volcano is an indication that their PR department is making policy decisions — always a bad strategy. Drill, baby, drill; spill, baby, spill; spin, baby, spin! Meanwhile, the Senate is considering a climate and energy bill that does nothing to stop offshore drilling in the Arctic, where Shell Oil is getting ready to begin “exploratory drilling” within two months. Needless to say, weather and oceanic conditions in the Arctic are considerably harsher than in the Gulf of Mexico. Can anyone say, “disaster waiting to happen”? How many Deepwater Horizons is it going to take before we come to our collective senses? The catastrophe in the Gulf is a wake-up call: we must eliminate fossil fuels from our energy diet.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 13: Too Big To Bail

Mary Landrieu, the Senator from Louisiana who is not Diaper Dave Vitter, said this, in conversation with Ed Schultz:

SCHULTZ: Are you for unlimited caps and liability?

LANDRIEU: I am for BP paying every single penny that they owe, and if we can raise caps without crashing the entire industry then I’m for it, but I’m not for putting people out of work.


Dear Senator Landrieu — I don’t know whether to be amused, appalled or outraged. In a recent interview with Ed Schultz, you said that you were in favor of raising the limit on liability caps…but not if it would “put people out of work.” Meaning, presumably, the people who work in the oil industry.

From which I infer that People Who Work In The Oil Industry are Special People — unlike those other, not-so-special, people who work in fishing, tourism, or any of the scores of other occupations that depend on the Gulf of Mexico. Because those people (the not-so-special ones) are losing their jobs right, left and center. And must I remind you that those people are your constituents, and they’re losing their jobs because British Petroleum and its contractors behaved with near-sociopathic disregard for the consequences of their actions.

If it’s really true that being held accountable for the economic damages of a giant environmental catastrophe would put B.P. out of business, why were they allowed to drill for oil off our coastline in the first place?

The Deepwater Horizon disaster must serve as a wake-up call to our nation: it is time to kick the fossil-fuel habit once and for all. An important part of this process is for Americans to learn that oil and coal are actually far more expensive than renewable sources — once we factor in the costs we’ve been ignoring for decades: cleanup, mitigation, liabilities, climate change.

If making BP pay its fair share of cleanup and liability costs for the Gulf spill will put BP out of business, good. There is no longer any reason why corporate malefactors should be coddled and protected from the economic consequences of their destructive irresponsibility.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 11: Righteous Anger!

I heard BP CEO Tony Hayward’s little interview on CNN. So I wrote him a letter. I’m going to email it to BP’s press office, mail it to BP’s home office, and send another copy into outer space: Hayward is described as living “near Sevenoaks, Kent, United Kingdom.” So I’m going to address an envelope just that way and send it. It’s too bad that the very rich and powerful (see Cheney, Richard) cannot be located by the people whose lives they influence.

Dear Mr. Hayward —

I was distressed to listen to your brief interview on CNN in which you brushed aside questions about British Petroleum’s willingness to assume greater liability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Senator Ben Nelson, commenting on your appearance, said that he had no confidence that your corporation would waive the $75,000,000 limit of damage liability — that is to say, he had no confidence that British Petroleum would do the right thing.

Because, Mr Hayward, abdicating your corporate responsibility for a disaster you caused is the wrong thing to do. To be sure, such a selfish and irresponsible action will no doubt be viewed favorably by BP’s stockholders, whose losses will thereby be mitigated.

And that, sir, is why, more than politicians, corporations are feared and reviled by the great majority of the world’s population. Because a group of shareholders dispersed in multiple locations around the planet can influence corporate behavior in ways that will condemn entire communities and ecosystems to an oil-soaked oblivion. Because the profit imperative drives corporate behavior; because corporations don’t have to eat petroleum-poisoned fish; because corporations have no consciences; because while British Petroleum may pump oil from the Gulf of Mexico it does not mean that British Petroleum “feels” any responsibility for the damage it’s done — because corporations don’t feel anything.

And because you have elected to surrender your humanity to the profit motive and become the nominal leader of a corporation, it means that the image of an oil-soaked seabird gasping its last breath is not a grotesque and horrifying atrocity, but a Public Relations problem. The public must be distracted from the dead birds, from the poisoned fish, from the devastated ecosystems, from the crippled industries, from the blighted bays.

Let me tell you something, Mr Hayward. This time, the public won’t be distracted. British Petroleum created one of the greatest environmental catastrophes our planet has yet experienced. It is obvious in retrospect that your corporation was ill-prepared for any eventuality other than the optimal one; it is increasingly obvious that your corporation’s record of compliance with even the weakest safety and environmental regulations is abysmal. This is your disaster, and there are thousands of people throughout the world who will not rest until everyone knows that British Petroleum refused to pay to clean up the mess it created.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and your corporation will act decisively in the public interest. I hope so; demonstrating that BP takes its responsibilities seriously would give the citizens of the world an example of corporate good citizenship. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on “irresponsible, avaricious sociopathy.”

Are you going to prove me wrong?

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders