Friday, June 18, 2010
Thinking about Corporate Accountability, BP and Other Environmental Catastrophes
Watching the Gulf Oil spill saga continue to unfold has been a bit like watching a car crash. Its hideously ugly, tragic and terrible, but somehow the American public can't keep its eyes off what has already become one of the greatest environmental tragedies in the history of humanity. With Americans momentarily enraged and looking for answers, all of a sudden taking a hard line on oil companies has become politically expedient, even if they've been cutting you campaign checks for your entire political career. Of course most of that outrage will dissipate once the 20 second soundbite ends and the opportunity to do something substantive for the environment arises but thats the nature of our culture where political opinion is driven by who can shout louder and the environment is too often overlooked in favor of short term political gamesmanship.
While the Gulf Oil spill undoubtedly stems from negligence and a lack preparedness at BP, its ironic that this whole thing is an accident, particularly when you consider some of the intentionally heinous things which take place all the time. Yes, this accident is of a magnitude never before seen, but there have been many negligent AND intentional actions taken in broad daylight by corporate logging, mining and oil companies over the last 50 years which have had arguably equally catastrophic effects albeit at a slightly different scale. How can the complete destruction of the Deer Creek Basin in Washington not be considered among the same type of environmental crimes? But there was no justice department inquiry then. Sadly the Forest Service was complicit in the wholesale rape of Western Washington's most storied summer steelhead stream, building the roads and making the timber sales that facilitated the thoughtless and destructive pillaging of the hallowed watershed. So many in Washington DC are eager to hand over vast tracts of public land, and resources to corporations which have absolutely no intention of dealing with the fallout of their profiteering. Meanwhile stock holders get rich and the public is left to pay the cost of cleaning up the mess. Pebble mine is a classic example, and like the deep water horizon or so many other corporate cash grabs, it is destined to end in tragedy. The politicians will act outraged to appease a momentarily transfixed constituency and then go back to their steak dinners with oil and mining company lobbyists and their "drill baby drill mantras".
What about the actions of the Bureau of "Wreck the Nation" (Reclaimation) and the Army Corp of Engineers throughout most of the 20th century? Government agencies intentionally destroyed huge swaths of free flowing river and with it the legacy of millions of years of evolution and local adaptation within populations of wild salmon and steelhead, and they did it all for pennies on the dollar in irrigation and hydroelectric returns. The damming and subsequent loss of the North Fork Clearwater and its race of B-run steelhead is as egregious as any act ever committed against the environment. The rash of dam building has subsided since government agencies in cooperation with power and utility companies have managed to dam and destroy most of the major rivers in the Lower 48 states. But the political culture which allows for the intentional destruction of public land, water and fisheries resources remains, always with the shortsighted goal of appeasing the gods of profit, lobbyists and other uncouth and unethical figures. The Dalles, Dworshak, and every dam on the Lower Snake River are perfect examples, and until some of our supposedly "environmentalist" politicians from WA grow a spine and stand up against the death sentence we've collectively given Snake Salmon they're no better than the rest of DC and its godawful political culture.
All I can say is, if Washington DC wants to be about sound bites and bullshit thats their unfortunate choice, but there is no way in hell some republican from Arkansas is going to have a damn thing to say about the fate of my home watersheds and the fish they support. At the end of the day there are only a few with attention spans long enough to make a difference and I can guarantee you that doesn't include 98% of politicians.