I’ve been in New Orleans and Florida the last few weeks and there is genuine anger that the oil disaster in the gulf is still going on. The government, and the corporations responsible for building, operating and mitigating the disastrous impact of the drilling operation have all been fairly useless in doing anything real about it. And everybody knows it.
My friends Stella and Mitch in New Orleans were kind enough to let me video them briefly about their perspective. They give heartfelt testimony to just how important this stuff is, and how hugely it is affecting the tourism, fishing and oil industries in Louisiana and further afield that are the mainstay of most people’s livelihoods.
Needless to say, BP has come in for an awful lot of stick. Signs attached to New Orleans lamp-posts insult BP. I saw a woman dancing with her partner at a Zydeco music festival sporting an “FU BP” poster pinned to her back.
But the shocking thing to me is not that a multinational corporation should externalise its costs and risks, and screw people and the environment in the process. It has been the almost utter inability of the US government to do anything effective about it. Yet many people – on the left and right of the political spectrum – have fallen into what I see as a trap of blaming BP, as if BP is a “bad apple” and all other oil corporations are fine, a piece of “framing” that hides the larger systematic issues and abuses.
Certainly the right-wing old fogies here in Florida are clinging to this narrative: “BP is some corrupt British corporation, coming over here and colonising American resources. Corporations in general (including and especially American corporations) are OK; it is this errant and colonialist, elitist, distant British corporation – operated by some posh English dude – that is purely at fault”.
While BP are obviously guilty of massive and criminal negligence, to understand the situation blame must be levelled at the other corporations involved, at the federal regulator (which Obama has now taken to task because it was hand-in-glove with the oil industry), and at the federal government itself. But moreover, America’s laws and political culture are exacerbating the situation: the government is hamstrung (partly legally) from effectively responding to the crisis because it is not an act of God but the actions of a corporation, for which they are legally responsible. The federal government has not been able to (and/or willing to) step in and mitigate the situation in the way they morally should have. Republicans, for all their rhetoric, have only made the situation worse and prolonged the crisis.
Last week’s decision by a federal judge to overturn the Obama-administration imposed moratorium on drilling just shows how uncaring the Republicans are about the real issues involved, and how much they have bought into (and are propagating) the shallow “bad apple” frame, without looking at the obvious danger of this happening again. Judge Martin Feldman’s decision also, of course, shows up the blatant and chilling partisanship of the US judicial system.
As it happens, and as my friend Mitch from New Orleans mentions in his video, the moratorium is an imperfect solution that itself is damaging ordinary people’s livelihoods. But when a federal judge and the corporations responsible for criminal negligence are singing from the same hymn sheet, I get the chills. So for me the issue is far FAR bigger than “is BP a bad apple?”.
The frame needs to be: oil exploitation is inherently suicidal, all these corporations are out to screw over people and the environment and animals for a quick profit, American political culture is actually set up to HELP them do that and not to prevent or mitigate the likely disastrous results, and there needs to be a wholesale reform of not only energy policy but a culture and legal structure of corporate welfare that goes to the heart of what America is today.