Saturday, November 13, 2010

Some anniversaries should be left well alone

Six-month mark of BP oil mess throws shaky science, systems thinking out the window

*Note -- This is one of several stories working toward some sanity on what went wrong with this country's oil industry, the government, the politicians, and the media tied to the worst environmental disaster thus far this country has experienced.

**Second Note -- The mid-term elections and the current state of fear in this country will make for a few more pieces or blogs on this spot.

***Third Note -- Photos from Matthew White, photographer,

By Paul K. Haeder

The magic in Eduardo Galeano’s “Memory of Fire” is tied to his poor performance as a history student. He felt the classes were like visits to the waxworks or “Region of the Dead.”

“The past was lifeless, hollow, dumb,” he writes in the first of the trilogies, “Genesis.” “They taught us about the past so that we should resign ourselves with drained consciences to the present: not to make history, which was already made, but to accept it.”

The history in the making now, especially tied to the current drawing-down of the decade, is tied to the spasms of collective ignorance and media myopia tied to why the world is tipping: food security is shattered because of climate; up is down in the world of tea party thinking; Haiti represents the loss of collective planning; oil ooze has now ended up in the most important part of life on earth.

Ninety percent of all marine species live at least part of their life associated with the bottom, called the benthic zone. Of course, the benthic mode of life includes species found in the intertidal, shelf, bathyal, abyssal, and hadal zones.

We barely are understanding the species living under the surface of the bottom of the ocean (called infauna). BP and ExxonMobil and the other oil barons know little about the work geologists and marine scientists are carrying out on bottom of the ocean, a major area of decomposition where organic material is are recycled.

In fact, early in the BP mess back in May, it came to light that British Petroleum’s so deemed marine science expert had been deceased for several years. No replacement chief scientist, no memorandum of agreement with any of the dozens of doctoral-level universities in the Gulf region studying geology and oceans.

“No one knows what effects this unprecedented chemistry experiment might have on the region’s living things, but many scientists fear the worst,” Susan Casey, the editor-in-chief of “O,” writes in the September edition. “The ocean’s senior denizens, its magnificent predators, the toothed and the finned, the small and the humble, the ancient corals, the exquisitely adapted: At best they will suffer. At worst, they’ll be gone.”

The history of the Gulf is one of exploration, interesting indigenous patterns, cultural diversity, conquest, greed and corporate and political exploitation. Now, as we go into the next decade, all North Americans can proudly say we are a part of the mess emanating from the Gulf.

The story has played out elsewhere – the Heart of Darkness in the Congo when King Leopold helped to fuel several million deaths in that exploitation for resources; or the French helping push into a death cycle several million in Indochina during the past century’s rubber frenzy.

Galeano writes about the Americas – all three – in his award-winning book, “Memory of Fire.” In those passages, we see the exploitation played out throughout our collective history. What’s happened in the Gulf just in six months has opened wounds of exploitation and disharmony.

“Through out the centuries,” Galeano writes, “Latin America has been despoiled of gold and silver, nitrates and rubber, copper and oil: its memory has been usurped. From the outset it has been condemned to amnesia by those who have prevented it from being.”

The Gulf could be a region of sustainable energy, fishing, aqua-farmed oysters. Instead, it’s a ravaged set of ecosystems and cultural designs, centered largely on gas, oil, toxic by-products of the age of plastic and obsolescence.

The amnesia he talks about played out a just few weeks ago in the Gulf.

It’s almost surreal, how thousands packed into the Cajun Dome in Lafayette recently to hang and burn effigies of President Barack Obama as tea bagging nihilists blamed him for the troubles in the Gulf.

“You have to wonder what they were thinking,” said New Orleans-based photographer and college instructor Matthew White in a recent interview on KYRS.

There weren’t insults to British Petroleum, Transocean, or Halliburton. No cutouts fashioned after Tony Hayward, the former boss of BP. No petition drive to sue Nalco Holding Company, the producer of Corexit. No bulls-eyes painted on the faces of corporate heads of ExxonMobil.

“It’s absolutely bizarre that David Vitter and all the other politicians were in the Cajun Dome blaming Obama for the oil spill,” White said.

Vitter is the Republican U.S. senator who admitted to visiting a madame or two while in Congress in 2008 and who also pleaded guilty to assault charges against a girlfriend.

Six months later, we have a Voltaire drama unfolding, but thank goodness for
Mother Jones magazine. ProPublica, Democracy Now, Terry Tempest Williams, Jerry Cope and Ian McDonald, as well as countless other scientists bucking the BP spin machine and oil industry thuggery and intellectual dishonesty.

Journalists and editors who didn’t pull up stakes in the Gulf region have given voice to those scientists and researchers who keep talking about a plume of hydrocarbons more than 24 miles long and 500 fathoms below the surface. They’ve given the rest of America a chance to see the human cost of this gash in the skin of the ocean bottom.

The latest news since the well was supposedly capped Aug. 5, as reported by mainstream media, is the cost to BP — $40 billion in a probable payout. Plus, the fact that BP’s quarterly profits topped $2 billion.

There was the headline proclaiming how Hayward demanded an apology from Obama, and blames the U.S. administration for all of the stress and vagaries in his poor life.

Another story chronicled Halliburton admitting it failed to properly test the cement used to seal the well before it blew out. Then the recriminations leveled at the Obama administration for lifting the moratorium on deep-ocean drilling.

The entire mess has been one misstep after another, reaching this apotheosis of the company which screwed up the construction and application of the blowout preventer – the one that failed and allowed 400 million of gallons to bleed into the Gulf – being put in charge of testing their own device. No questions asked.

Do you hear the tea party galloping up in the rear? No oversight, no scientific inquiries launched by joint academic-government panels, no fines, taxes, fees or limits put on the polluters and economic hit men.

Six months after the disaster, and we are seeing a narrative skewed by mid-term election follies, the most expensive political B-movie ever, topping $3 billion for all those crummy races.

Six months after the spill and we still see the liability directed at oil companies capped to an absurd level; no climate change bill has been passed; no national oil response legislation has even been voted on.

Then there are all the lies and scientific distortions, having produced a terrible toxic brew of a country – an industry, too – which can’t get the story right, can’t prepare for another blowout, and can’t mitigate and stop the bleed when it will happen.

Another well will blow out, that is guaranteed, especially at depths of 6,000 feet under water. Relief wells are still being drilled, at 15,800 and 17,900 feet down.

Mainstream media have their panties in a bunch about the tea baggers who want the Environmental Protection Agency to be disbanded, and any government oversight to be dismembered and put into the hands of Walmart, Exxon, Monsanto, Blackwater, DuPont and Rupert Murdoch.

You get the picture: Science and independent investigation get trumped by PR spin and industry self-policing.

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