Wednesday, May 05, 2010

An Offshore Disaster

My response to the Gulf of Mexico oil well disaster

The headlines have been the same over the past few weeks: an offshore oil well exploded and is now gushing great gobs of Texas Tea into the Gulf of Mexico. The perpetrator? BP Oil Company. Heroically, Gulf Oil is building a giant cone or dome to siphon off the spurting crude. They just managed to cap one of the three leaks miles deep under the waves.

Meanwhile, locals in a boat just saw a sea turtle swimming through the crud, obviously distressed. Not being trained in animal rescue, they could only stand by helplessly. Get ready for lots more helpless hand-wringing as the images of other victims, bird, animal and human, start coming in.

No crime has been nearly as bad as this one in the U.S., ever. This oil well already qualifies as the worst industrial and environmental accident in the U.S. in history, and it has just begun. Judging by past precedent, the company is certain to get away with this. After all, Exxon slipped free of the massive destruction that the crash of its tanker the Exxon Valdez did to Alaska in the 1980's. The headlines declared in big letters that they had lost a court case and were slapped with an impressive amount of punitive damages. Then a little while later a tiny headline whispered that the damages had been reduced to a slap on the wrist. Companies with that much money can keep the law and politics in their back pocket. Worse, BP is not even an American company. Its huge wealth is beyond the world's most powerful nation's power to touch or regulate.

Authorities are responding to this disaster in accordance with state-corporatist ideology. The American president rushed to the distressed company's bedside, offering to hold its hand, assuring the industry that he will defend the unalienable right of Big Oil to drill for more crude off American coasts. He made it clear that he stands ready to protect these corporations from the dire danger of a public backlash.

I wonder what the response would be if the world had a government and a court. I love to fantasize about how events might play out. First of all, no company, no matter how international or complex, could go the authority of a world government. How about this scenario:

A world government's first step would be simply to disband BP Oil. Take it and all of its parent and subsidiary companies, and kill it. This is something that would never happen in the U.S. right now. No company has been broken up by a American government on any level for at least thirty years, even the most egregiously criminal. But as I say, no crime can equal this one.

There would be no need for a trial, the world government would just end the company's corporate charter and freeze its bank accounts. For the past couple of centuries, corporations have fought for and won most of the rights that humans enjoy; it is only right that they should be subject to the sanctions that humans suffer when they do great wrongs.

Consider this. It seems fair and right murderers should be kept a long time on death row, in case of a mistake. But why be so hesitant to do that to an abstract entity like a corporation? When a company commits a crime there is no need for delay or court cases, a responsible authority would disband it forthwith. Nobody dies, no blood is shed. A few careers are interrupted, but involvement in misbehaviour on this scale would, or should, end such a career anyway.

A world government with the authority to summarily execute corporations would command more respect than the fawning lickspittles that supposedly regulate them now. It would set an example by immediately selling off BP's assets and allocating the money to repair the damage their crimes have done to the environment and smaller, honest companies who are suffering from this act, such as fishermen. If any funds remain after the cleanup from BP's present assets of some 242 billion dollars (<>), use them to mitigate the damage that the oil industry as a whole is doing to the environment.

If none of this sends a chill through the industry, go ahead and jail BP's board of directors, CEO and entire upper management. They jailed Nazi's in the Nuremberg Trials, didn't they? If you walk through a store and you take a stick of gum, they will jail you, won't they? Why should far worse crimes than shoplifting hide behind a corporation's veil of immunity?

The burning of carbon is a sunset industry anyway, so any shock that these measures do to the economy can only be for the good. Let the wealth of BP and its cronies be given as grants for building offshore wind turbines. Renewable electric power facilities are inherently safer, anyway. An offshore wind turbine may fall over in a storm, but the damage would be nothing compared to an uncapped oil well.


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