Moral conscience or liability assessment?

A black tide of death is ebbing its way from the far depths of the ocean and sloshing along the shores of the southern United States. The oil envelops all things and kills the living in a slow choking fate of grease. The destruction is far beyond a single creature or species – it swallows whole ecosystems and its disruptions will echo across the entire country financially and politically.

The profit-driven catastrophe began in a baptism of human blood April 20 when 11 oil rig workers were burned, blown or drowned to death in the initial fiery explosion.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank 5,000 beneath the gulf as a number of Coast Guard ships attempted to quell the natural gas and oil fed fire.

The rig suspended a long metal pipe from the sea floor and when it sank, this engineering thread buckled alongside it, resting in a heap on the ocean’s floor. It now rests at a depth too great for even modern man to tread and the entire recovery/repair operation must be done with remote controlled robot submarines. It all sounds like the start to modern science fiction thriller.

Just a side note, but 40 years ago our country sent three astronauts to the moon on Apollo 11 for more than 21 hours in a four-day round trip back to Earth.

I keep thinking back to all the doomsday movies where the most famous actors pretend to be our world’s most genius scientists and policy makers. Together with some luck and exaggeration, they always seem able to save Earth despite the fact its annihilation was only 72 hours away to start. After seeing how we’ve reacted to the gulf spill, their fiction is all too clear.

If the oil spill had been a doomsday meteorite speeding apocalypse towards Earth, we’d be extinct by now.

All the might of the United States of America and its largest corporations (big oil) apparently lack the ability to successfully plug the out-of-reach hole. We can topple sovereign nations in a matter of days and coordinate multiple foreign wars, but we can’t stop the oil.

What’s it say about a culture the can dig itself a hole it can’t fill? We have the technology to reach these distant petroleum reserves and the technology to keep it secure. This is an incident where incompetence was motivated by capital gain and operator error. “We have the technology,” as they so dramatically say, but apparently not the judgment to implement it correctly.

Though I wonder if I’m being too harsh, after all no industry can be perfect – but this one mistake is akin to Russia’s Chernobyl.

Remember the only nuclear reactor to suffer several minor plant explosions that turned into a massive radiation surge? At the time Russia said the event killed 50 people directly, yet in the decades that follow the residual effects are calculated by the hundreds of thousands of indirectly affected victims, including a few thousand who contracted life-threatening cancer. The terrain surrounding the site is also infamous for its level of environmental contamination. The event took place in 1986, but I still wouldn’t drink the water.

A judge recently struck down a measure to postpone off shore drilling. Ignoring the politics, I wonder if perhaps oil spill and nuclear meltdown share the same levels on the worst possible industrial disaster scale. Each day the spill continues to extend its lead as the United States’ worst environmental lapse in history. If it’s not comparable, then no oil leak ever will be. You think if a U.S. nuclear reactor suffered a meltdown instead of a oil rig leak there’d be much debate about shutting the rest of them down? I don’t think so.

Big oil and its big money are at work against us here. It’s in their interest to not just minimize the actual spill but the negative perspectives of it. It was their practices of greed that created the incident and I doubt they’ve changed priorities in the cataclysmic interval.

According to the recent conservative estimate, 40,000 barrels are leaking daily. It changes often, but always the estimates go up. I’m told by national news sources that equates to about 1.7 million gallons a day. That’s 70,833 every hour, 1,180 every minute and 19.7 gallons of crude being pumped into the Atlantic every second.

To think of all the long natural shore lines were spoiled by a man made hole seven inches wide, 42 miles from shore and about a mile beneath the waves.

I have no love of corporations, and I don’t think it’s smart for people to pretend they have our best interest at heart. It’s all about the money. Not to say they are evil, but they are institutions that do what people design them to do.

That goes for natural gas companies or banks or telecommunications or any other massive entity that obsesses over profit. A good business is well designed to secure its operators cash, there is no soul to the equation.

As Ambrose Bierce mused in his 1911 Devil’s Dictionary during the time of the muckrakers, “Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

There is no love for us from corporations either. Powered by their single motivation they navigate any regulatory system, turning every legal inch into a mile.

Instead of a conscience in business, there is only a risk assessment formula to calculate liability.

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