Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Lessons from the Front Page

It's tempting, in our distress, to believe that the BP oil disaster has awakened the whole world to the folly and irresponsibility of our continued dependence on oil. Surely now, many think, we will at long last heed the warnings of every president over the last half century that time is running out, and for the future of humanity we must wean ourselves from the substance that threatens to poison life on planet Earth and leave our descendants with an unstoppable warming of the globe.

Not so fast. There's much to be learned even along the Gulf Coast from the way our dead tree press composes the front page. Newspapers, after all, still pride themselves on being the voice of the community -- and they mostly are. So, you would expect there would be unanimity along the coast in deploring what is becoming the largest-ever toxic oil spill in all of human history.

Not so much. Bear with us and you'll see what we mean.

In the Northwest Florida Daily News out of Ft. Walton, Florida, the lead stories are all about putting "BP on the hook"... the "Huge plume of oil" spotted off Pensacola Beach... and small tarballs making "landfall" on Okaloosa Island and as far east as Grayton Beach.


Likewise for the Pensacola News Journal. Indeed, at a glance it seems that today's PNJ, from front to back, is almost three-quarters oil spill-related news. The "huge plume of weathered oil" just offshore... the closure of Pensacola Pass (for what we suppose is the first time since the civil war Battle of Pensacola, if not the Spanish Siege of Pensacola in 1781, when the mighty Spanish fleet drove the British out of "West Florida")... the anticipated likely closure of local beaches... more demands from businesses for compensation from BP... and so on.


The nearby Mobile Press-Register 50 miles to the west blares "Waves of Oil" and adds numerous articles about how the "unprecedented amounts of oil slathered Alabama's coastline", closed beaches, halted commercial fishing, ruined tourism, anchored boats to the shore.... plus on-line videos showing a fire vortex erupting inside a controlled burn of oil at sea... diplomatic tensions arising between British and American leaders... "a thousand... gooey oil mousse patties and tarballs" washing ashore on fragile barrier islands and U.S. national park lands; and, for good measure, critical editorials about "secret meetings" breeding distrust among the people, BP Corp., and the government... and so on.

There's even a deeply humiliating article about how we will all soon be paying money for the recaptured oil that comes from BP's failed repair attempts "at gas stations, construction sites and even grocery stores once BP sells the crude taken from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico," supposedly for "wildlife protection."

In Mississppi, however, although Pascagoula's Mississippi Press headlines the same news story about gooey oil mousse patties in the Mississippi Sound, and a couple of others, the paper sidesteps most of the local environmental, health, and economic ruination. In this, the paper may be reflecting Mississippi governor Haley Barbour's Pollyanna perspective that "we have had virtually no oil."

Drill, baby, drill.

But for a travesty of denial in the face of catastrophe, take a look at the Lafayette, Louisiana, Daily Advertiser, where the tardily repentant Pope in Rome dominates the headlines, along with economic news that "the rate of Lafayette Parish residents losing their homes to foreclosure in May has nearly tripled from the same period a year ago."

The Daily Advertiser, for what it's worth, is owned by the same mega-media corporation, Gannett, as the Pensacola News Journal. And, Lafayette is about as close to the devastated coastal waters and bayous of south Louisiana as nearby Milton is to Navarre Beach. Which is to say, it's very close.

Yet, the Lafayette newspaper strangely minimizes the oil spill news. Moreover, today it published a laughably incoherent editorial which blames the U.S. government for the BP oil spill because it became "a partner" with BP when it charged "a portion (percentage) of profits generated from the sale of oil and gas from completed wells." (The state of Louisiana profits from every gallon, too, as the editorial writer neglects to mention.)

The fact that the U.S. government sells drilling rights leases to public lands and Gulf waters no more makes it a "partner" equally liable with a criminal driller than a landlord is to be blamed for crimes committed in a rental apartment by his tenant. The demented logic of the newspaper is so breathtaking as to make one wonder, 'Just what is going on here?'

What's with the drastic minimizing by Lafayette's daily newspaper of the largest natural disaster in all of U.S. history? The likely answer was offered yesterday by a local businessman and friend of ours who grew up in Lafayette before escaping to Florida. As he explained it to us yesterday, "most of the jobs in Lafayette are in the oil industry or closely connected to it. The town is hurting bad right now. They're scared of losing their jobs."

And there you have it: the national petroleum predicament in a nutshell. Unless we wean ourselves from oil we will poison life on the planet; but, like a junkie we're so habituated to the stimulating day to day drug of oil jobs that we can't bring ourselves to look into the future and kick the habit -- even though we know it will kill us.

Any number of presidents as well as experts have scolded us that accelerating the move to alternative energy is a national imperative. We must do it; for reasons of the continued availability of needed energy, protecting the national economy, human health, sea life, the livability of the planet, and even national security. Yet, as venture capitalist John Doerr pointed out on News Hour the other night, we're "buying more potato chips per year, as a country, than we are investing in our energy future."



The newly released American Energy Innovation Council report calls, appropriately in our view, for an increase in federal R & D financing into "clean energy research, development and deployment... from $5 billion to $16 billion annually." Click on the titled to read the entire report called "A Business Plan for America's Energy Future."

That could be as welcome to all those oil jobbers in Lafayette as it is in St. Paul. There has to be a way to transition oil jobs to wind, solar, electric, and even safe nuclear power. It's either that, or surrender the planet to sell-outs like these top twenty senators and congressmen in the pockets of the oil industry:

As Sandy Tolen wrote in the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, the BP oil catastrophe signals that we are at a critical crossroads in the history of humanity:
[T]here is much more at risk here than short-term politics. We must come to grips with the consequences of our petroleum addiction, and with the comfortable lifestyle that floats on a sea of oil. This means aggressive tax incentives for solar and wind power, real progress on climate change, personal and national commitments to sharp energy conservation, and a ban on risky drilling.
* * *
But the oil staining our own shores gives us an opportunity we simply can’t afford to ignore.
As a matter of pure practicality, then, the first step in coming "to grips" with the problem is for Congress to pass the toughest amalgam possible of the two energy bills now pending, and for the White House to continue a moratorium on deep sea drilling until the oil industry uses some its gargantuan profits to match its safety capacity with its drilling abilities.

Feel the pain of the unemployed residents of Lafayette and similar areas all over the country all you like. We simply can't let them and their oil industry employers continue holding the nation -- and for that matter the earth -- hostage to individual needs.

It's axiomatic that being a nation means coming together for collective action for the common good. What could be more important as a collective goal than saving planet Earth?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying that. This problem absolutely cannot be resolved with a goal of resurrecting these former jobs.