Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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'Money for Nothin' and the Slick's for Free'

Photograph by: Lee Celano, ReutersRecently, in an article in the Calgary Herald volunteers were pictured cleaning up tar-balls from Florida beaches. The article was titled BP handed $69M bill for oil spill and somewhere it stated that: “Instead of coming ashore as a solid wave of crude, the oil is washing up in small brown globs the size of pennies, quarters and dollar coins”.

The article is full of ironies. Principal among them is the image of ordinary people engaged in a futile effort with gloved hands and plastic bags to clean up the mess while an uncapped gusher continues spewing forth the black muck at a rate of millions of litres per day. The title alone suggests the idea of a waiter being handed a bill for the cost of spilling something on a customer’s Armani suit. BP of course has a great deal more “capitalist prestige” than a hotel waiter, even if nevertheless capable of a clumsy spill, and the bill will be somewhat more than $69M, but then there is a lot more at stake than an Armani suit.

But the image of powerless people engaged in a futile quest to undo and resist the ongoing damage done by the powerful in their quest for profit and more power seems to encapsulate the whole range of struggles from saving whales and forests to climate change (though let’s not forget that all that profit comes from the purchases and consent of everyone else). It’s an image that takes me back some 30 years to when I changed the direction of my studies from computer science to biology because I became charged with a (perhaps naive) sense of urgency as I discovered more about the damage we were doing to our environment, perhaps influenced most by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and felt a need to “get involved”.  By the mid 1980s I was back in school studying Information Technology in a graduate diploma; I had come to feel like the man in the image in the Calgary Herald in his gloves with his plastic bag picking up the black muck on the beach. 

There were two prominent political figures at that time, one Bob Brown, a former doctor turned green politician who had dedicated years of his life to fighting environmental issues – thin-faced and care-worn, perhaps a little embittered. The other, one Robert James Hawke, former trade unionist and friend of big business turned political pragmatist and Prime Minister – slick, charismatic and self-assured. I think one of the statements I made at the time was that there is no point fighting a war of care as ONE, it takes everyone and if one man (referring to Bob Brown) can spend half his life taking us three inches forward and another (referring to Bob Hawke) can pick up the phone and in a three minute conversation with the US President take us three yards backward – there is just nothing to be gained. People have to care, not just one, everyone.

There is another charming image in that statement about the crude oil “washing up in small brown globs the size of pennies, quarters and dollar coins.” – I ponder for a moment with some bitterness, perhaps, that the money is just rolling in!

But this leads me to the greatest Irony of it all. I’ve been an agnostic all my life but this one could almost make me reconsider. Here we have a nation that has initiated two illegal, immoral, violent and aggressive wars for OIL and now, after all that, here it is washing up on the beaches of the very state of Florida where the whole disgusting bad dream began, free for the asking, just turn up with a pair of gloves and a plastic bag. It is as if some anus at the bottom of the ocean has finally yielded to divine comment.

You would think a President as smart as the one in the US, who is always on the phone telling other world leaders what to do and what not, would have the dynamism of intellect to take this out of the hands of BP and throw it open to the world forum, to find the ideas and capacity to stop the flow and stop it fast – at BP’s expense, of course. Yet somehow, perhaps deluded by his own power, this charming, cosmic superhero fails to see the futility of issuing a 72-hour ultimatum to an organization, which anyone in the universe ought to be able to see, has not the least clue what to do about it.

People have to care. Right now, not enough people care. Soon – everyone will care.

But now I’m not sure even that will make any difference.

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