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 16: Quick and Dirty

Busy tonight. Lots of stuff to do, a long day of teaching tomorrow, and a small gig in the evening. Not a lot of time to invest — so I went to Time Magazine’s website and found their article on the Kerry-Lieberman bill. The letter is a rehash of many of this week’s themes.

The Kerry-Lieberman climate/energy bill’s inclusion of offshore drilling is a testimonial to the destructive influence of political expediency. The Deepwater Horizon disaster needs to be a game-changer. We must learn that fossil fuels are vastly more expensive than we’ve been led to believe; their true costs must include health effects, environmental destruction, catastrophic global warming, and the extremely expensive wars we require to protect our sources. Senator Lindsey Graham, until recently a third partner in the climate legislation, said in a recent statement that abandoning offshore drilling “isn’t realistic.” Maybe so…but it is completely delusional to think that we can continue as we have. “Business as usual” creates climate legislation designed around political exigencies; “business as usual” is a state of profound and complete denial. The Kerry-Lieberman bill needs to be passed — and it needs to be strengthened significantly. America has to kick the fossil fuel habit without delay.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 15: Saturday POTUS

The EPA released the final draft of its regulatory rule on greenhouse gases, and it’s worth checking out. This letter to President Obama uses the EPA news as a hook for the “fossils ain’t cheap” meme. Note the introduction of the “Bank of Gaia MasterCard” theme, which I will probably use again.

Oh, and by the way: you should be sure to read this piece by Al Gore.

Dear President Obama — it is excellent news that the Environmental Protection Agency has released the final version of its rule for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The requirement that major polluters will have to seek permits is a good step.

The fact is, though, that it’s just a step. It’s enormously gratifying to learn that the EPA will be strengthening regulatory oversight on coal-fired plants, refineries, cement manufacturers, solid waste landfills and other large polluters — but the other part of the equation is that we as a nation must learn to pollute less.

As long as we rely on oil for our energy, we are at greatly enhanced risk of disasters like the Deepwater Horizon. As long as we get our electricity from coal, we’re sure to face tragedies like the mine collapse in West Virginia. Remember, also, that fossil fuels bring with them many slower disasters as well: health effects, ecosystem loss, the destruction of mountaintops, environmental degradation and the terrifying threat of catastrophic climate change.

The EPA’s regulatory action makes the most sense in the context of a broadly based strategy to get Americans to waste less energy. The virtues of conservation in the classical sense must once again to be American virtues; the credo of the old Yankee, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” needs to be part of our thinking as a nation.

Can you imagine if George W. Bush had said something like that to the nation after September 11, 2001? Alas, what we got instead was an exhortation to go shopping. The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is an opportunity for you to make an important statement to the nation, pointing out the folly of embracing wastefulness as a lifestyle. We cannot afford the illusory cheapness of fossil fuels and the culture of disposability they have enabled; our Bank of Gaia MasterCard is maxed out to the tune of about four quadrillion dollars.

The EPA’s regulatory structure, in such a context, becomes part of a national, multi-level effort to teach us all — humans and corporations alike — to be better global citizens.

We need it.

Yours Sincerely,

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 12: Idiots Ahoy!


Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham,

Today will see the unveiling of the Climate Bill you’ve been working on. I fear that the events of the past few weeks have made your approach to offshore drilling ludicrously out of date. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon platform and British Petroleum’s pathetically inadequate response make it clear what our attitude towards Big Oil needs to be: No More. Similarly, the West Virginia mine disaster and the callously insensitive response of Massey Coal make it clear what our attitude towards Big Coal needs to be: No More.

No More Mountaintop Removal. No More Offshore Drilling. No More Subsidized Waste, Fraud and Inefficiency. No More Subornation of Congress by the Fossil-Fuel Industry. No More Mendacity. No More Misrepresentation. No More Corporate Irresponsibility.

No More Taking Carbon Out Of The Earth And Putting It In The Atmosphere.

When a newly released report from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that a 21-25 degree level of warming is possible over the next several centuries, and further points out that this would render the planet effectively uninhabitable — and states unequivocally that this warming is a possible consequence of “business as usual,” isn’t it obvious that we cannot continue to do business as usual?

We have to stop. Senators, whatever happened to the American “can do” spirit? Where is your confidence in the industrial sector of our country? Where is your confidence in American know-how? American ingenuity? American resourcefulness? The American sense of responsibility?

Have they been replaced by American irresponsibility, ineffectuality, incompetence, and insularity?

Judging by the discrepancy between what we need and what we’ll get, the answer is “yes.”

Our descendants will judge us harshly. But don’t feel too bad. If we continue “business as usual,” they’ll inherit an unimaginably hostile world — and they’ll probably be too busy struggling to survive to waste much energy on assigning blame. Drill, Baby, Drill!

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

Month 5, Day 6: Variations on a Theme

Haven’t written to Ed Markey in a while; didn’t feel as much of a need, since ACES passed the House. But in the wake of this awful event, I thought I should tell him to raise a little hell.

Dear Representative Markey — I write as one of your constituents, and as an American citizen who is hopeful that in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Earth-destroying systems that comprise the fossil fuel industries may finally be brought to bay. The recent tragedy in a West Virginia coal mine showed us again the ugly face of the coal industry (personified exactly by the avatar of greed, Mr. Don Blankenship); the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico shows us again the utter unconcern of British Petroleum (and the rest of Big Oil) for the environmental effects of their activity.

The objection raised to renewable energy is invariably that it is “too expensive.” As we can see in the last two months’ news, it is actually oil and coal that are too expensive: too expensive in lives, in environmental destruction, in cleanup bills, in the costs of war, in health effects, in contributions to global warming.

I write this letter to ask you and Representative Waxman, as the “point people” for energy and climate issues in the House, to stand up and tell the American people that we need to confront our deadly addiction to fossil energy head on; we must educate ourselves about the true costs of oil and coal.

We have to start learning, and stop burning.

There is no time to lose, and none to waste.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

cc: Rep. Henry Waxman

Month 5, Day 5: Pleading With The Powers That Be

Continuing on this theme — this time writing to the Climate/Energy bill trio. Please write some letters yourself!

Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham —

It should be obvious to you that offshore drilling is no longer a viable option for America’s energy policy. We have delayed long enough — it is time for America to confront, and end, its addiction to fossil fuels. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon is just the latest in a steady stream of catastrophes which illuminate the unfortunate fact that oil and coal are not cheap sources of energy. Fossil energy is only cheap when we don’t include the costs of cleanup, of health effects, of long-term ecological damage, and the expensive wars we wage to protect our sources. Renewable energy sources are only expensive when we don’t consider the benefits of positive environmental effects, more locally-based energy sources, greater reliance on conservation and efficiency, and avoiding some of the worst effects of CO2-induced atmospheric warming.

The Deepwater Horizon is a signal event in the history of our energy policy. It must be recognized as a clarion call to our nation’s citizenry, an “Environmental 9-11” that alerts us to the terrifying consequences of continued reliance on fossil energy.

America needs to wake up and face reality. Are you going to continue to offer sops to the oil and coal lobbies…or are you going to take the necessary steps to transform our energy equation once and for all? Our descendants’ lives hang in the balance.

For once, Senators…do the right thing.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 4: Schwarzenegger is Now Opposed To Offshore Drilling. Mr. President?

Okay, I’ll send another letter to the President. Why not?

Dear President Obama — It is becoming clearer by the day that offshore drilling for oil is too high-risk an activity. The idea that fossil fuels are inherently cheaper than renewable energy sources is now as obsolete as the phlogiston theory of combustion. Oil and coal are only cheap if we don’t count the enormous costs of cleanup, public health effects, and environmental/climatic impacts (not to mention all those expensive wars we wage to protect our oil sources). Renewables are only expensive if we don’t count the value inherent in an unspoiled environment, in benign climatic effects, and no longer spending billions of dollars every year propping up the big oil companies.

As the Deepwater Horizon disaster shows us, we can no longer afford the potential negative impacts of offshore drilling. This catastrophe makes it crystal clear what was obvious to some of us quite some time ago: there is no room at the negotiating table for Big Oil, for they have abdicated their responsibilities to the citizens of the USA, and of the world.

Please reinstate the ban on offshore drilling immediately.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders