Killing the Gulf of Mexico: Unacceptable Risks

Did we have to kill the Gulf of Mexico to stop, “Drill, baby, drill”? Before the spill from Deepwater Horizon is contained, Florida will see exactly the environmental catastrophe that kept offshore oil away from Florida’s coasts until the November 2008 elections. “Drill, baby, drill!”. The question arises: why must the American public “see” an environmental disaster before believing it represented an unacceptable risk all along?

A government official sought to describe the difficulty of containing the spill on account of “the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of depth.” There is no tyranny here except the tyranny of idiots. Sarah Palin, in an Iowa campaign stop a week before the November 2008 presidential election, articulated that so-called logic. Her speech started with the recognition that we need to apply new technology to the business of a clean energy future. Jobs, etc. But that wasn’t what the crowd was waiting for. “Now is the time for ‘drill, baby, drill'”, she read from the script– like a really bad actor telegraphing the punch line. (It is worth noting that President Obama is following the same script of “all of the above” on energy investments, absent the fear mongering.)

This idiocy was also the foundation of Florida’s future as imagined during the Bush regnum in Florida–test tube for conservative extremists during two terms of a governor now re-emerging through a surrogate candidate for US Senate, Marco Rubio. You can’t make progress, the thinking goes, without accepting the costs– and evading public disclosure of risks– of environmental destruction.

Environmentalists in the United States have been on the defensive almost from the first moment that concern for our air, water, and natural resources popped up on the radar of corporate interests. The Sagebrush Rebellion and its acolytes, funded by large conservative think tanks, was an integral aspect of the Reagan years and morphed, eventually, into the bloviators and right wing message machine of the new Idiocracy. “Eco-Nazis” and “eco-terrorists” is how environmentalists opposing offshore drilling and other protections for the planet have been described by propagandists like Rush Limbaugh.

Now that risks materialized in a trashed Gulf of Mexico, environmentalists who have argued for the precautionary principle applied to economic activities may have another moment in the oil-drenched haze. The precautionary principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. But throughout America, corporate America has persuaded the public that “plausible risks” are too expensive to work into the price of goods. In Miami-Dade county, this logic lead limerock miners (for cement) to pollute our drinking water aquifer, without significantly increasing the costs of their good. In the Everglades by Big Sugar; to put the heart of the state onto life support. And throughout the state by well drillers, phosphate miners and the Growth Machine; pretending to diversify the state’s economy while magnifying risks.

“BP has not said how much oil is beneath the Gulf seabed Deepwater Horizon was tapping, but a company official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels — a frightening prospect to many.” (AP, Gulf oil spill swiftly ballons, could move east, May 1, 2010) That spill, the Exxon Valdez, poured its cargo mostly onto a rocky coastline. But at first, BP told the world it was a leak of only 1000 barrels a day. Then it was 5,000.

Now there is concern that the remaining damaged pipe a mile under the sea is restraining the oil flow and an uncontrolled blowout on the ocean floor is possible. According to the Mobile Register, “The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.” (‘Leaked report: Government fears Deepwater Horizon well could become unchecked gusher’, April 30, 2010)

The sum result of this idiocracy at work is to mis-state the real risks embedded in drilling deepwater offshore oil. For tenderizing the body politick with its fear mongering, right wing extremists should be tarred and feathered with oil from the Deepwater Horizon and paraded in the public square.

In Florida, those public squares would be the instant grow Malls that were built with fraudulent credit to serve demand that did not exist, except in the fevered imaginations of Wall Street bankers and the Growth Machine; the same fevered imaginations that sold the public a bill of goods that sometimes you have to kill pieces of the planet to afford to save it.

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