Thursday, June 10, 2010

We are all BP

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is horrific beyond words. But just when you thought your heart was broken, you find out it's not done breaking. There are greater horrors still.

Because the Deepwater Horizon disaster is not very special.

The only thing that really makes it special is the fact that America is there. And that means the world, and in particular the American part of the world, is paying attention. And for this reason the shattered, ruined Gulf should count itself lucky.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the [Niger] delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.


"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US," said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. "But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

"This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper," he said.
This is the business model of the oil industry. This is how it generates profits: by giving itself the liberty of destroying one part of the planet after the other, and tossing those costs (can they even be measured in dollars?) onto the poor and defenseless. It does so with complete impunity in most of the world. In the Gulf of Mexico, because the Gulf is so fucking lucky, the industry can't ignore the damage it does entirely, due to consequences so dire that they can even cause some annoyance to a CEO.

Further, this is not just the business model of BP, or the oil industry in general. It is the logic of the multinational corporation.
The UN has hired the consultancy Trucost to estimate the costs dumped on the environment by the world's 3,000 biggest public companies. It doesn't report until October, but earlier this year the Guardian published the interim results. Trucost had estimated the damage these companies inflicted on the environment in 2008 at $2.2 trillion, equivalent to one third of their profits for that year. This too is likely to be an underestimate, as the draft report did not try to value the long-term costs of any issue except climate change. Nor did it count the wider social costs of environmental change.

A paper by the New Economics Foundation in 2006 used government estimates of the cost of carbon emissions to calculate the [unpaid] liabilities of Shell and BP. It found that while the two companies had just posted profits of £25bn, they had incurred costs in the same year of £46.5bn.
Finally, this is not just how one part of the world (the corporate part) works. This is not a system which exists somewhere out there. We are a part of it. We are complicit, and committed to complicity.
Whatever the courts may find about BP's culpability the real cause is our demand for oil and our refusal to pay its true price. Right now, everyone in America wants to do something to fight the spill. However, if you suggest that perhaps we should double the price of fuel and use the revenue to rebuild our transportation network, the general response is suspicious silence.
The logic of exploitation is part of our own lives. We depend on these corporations, and so we also depend on the ability to routinely violate creation and humanity with utter indifference. We depend on the ability to devastate a community along the Gulf coast, to bestow upon a pelican a slow death in the muck, to thrust a thirsty Nigerian child's face into a poisoned stream.

Are we not yet ready to change?

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

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