Sunday, May 02, 2010

The American Chernobyl

There is no getting around the huge, global implications of the growing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil rig explosion and ongoing leak of more than 5,000 gallons of oil per day is expected to surpass the Exxon disaster in Valdez, Alaska more than twenty years ago. Because of the enormity of this disaster, I don't think its hyperbole to suggest that this is America's "Chernobyl." For those who were too young to remember, Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant in the Ukraine that had a meltdown in the mid-1980s. It wrecked havoc on the surrounding environment while the toxic air spread around the globe. Though it wasn't the event that led to the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it may have been a small factor (when added to Glasnost and Perestroika, a stagnant economy, a devastating war in Afghanistan, and Reagan's SDI). There are unintended consequences behind any disaster.

That's what we have in our country now. This could be the warning that moves people to action if enough individuals are outraged by the magnitude of disaster. I knew a lot of people who boycotted Exxon in the aftermath of the Valdez tanker spill. In fact, one saw less Exxon gas stations in the 1990s than in the 1980s. A massive boycott is the best way to send a signal to irresponsible companies, which are naturally skittish anytime bad public relations shines a spotlight on their practices. It wouldn't be surprising to hear if some executives lose their jobs over this, as well they should.

Boycotting, though, is not enough. As we learn more about this oil rig spill, the one lesson that I hope will not get missed is that most people have no idea the huge environmental cost we place on the planet in our quest for cheap energy to keep our go-go-go economy humming at full throttle. I still remember the mindless chanting at the 2008 Republican National Convention: "Drill, baby, drill!" If any politician told Americans to "conserve" our energy, they would be laughed at, as people did at President Jimmy Carter, the last president to really push for energy conservation. We have old Ronnie to thank for our ongoing thirst for more oil. Far be it for any conservative to actually live out the true meaning of the word ("to conserve").

In the aftermath of 9/11 when some suggested that our easy American lifestyle bore some responsibility in inspiring people in the developing world to "hate" us, President George W. Bush's response was to state that "the American lifestyle is not negotiable." Oops. Instead of leading Americans into a more responsible era, he reaffirmed the values of Reagan's conservative wet dream: the planet is ours to rape and pillage until there's nothing left for our grandchildren to enjoy. In their view, there are no consequences to the American lifestyle, because "we'll all be dead" (as Bush had said when a reporter asked about his place in the history books).

What does this oil spill mean in real terms that Americans might understand? Well, besides ruining the environment for the fish, dolphins, sharks, and other sea creatures who live in the Gulf of Mexico, we're going to see a lot of oil-coated dead birds (and fish). The shrimping and fishing industries can basically fold up their businesses for the near future. More loss of jobs, and more expensive meals at restaurants, which will also lose money on lack of seafood options. The oil will wash ashore and wreck havoc on beaches, which means tourists won't be spending the summer of 2010 on the Gulf Coast. The smell of fuel is enough to make anyone sick to their stomach, and who wants to smell that at the beach? White sand beaches? Forget it. Motels and hotels, tacky souvenir shops, restaurants, and other businesses that depend on tourist dollars are going to have a terrible summer this year.

If that's not enough, hurricane season will be starting soon and depending on when the first one comes around, there's going to be oil mixed in with all that rain. Does anyone stop to think about the consequences of a cheap energy economy? The environmental impact is going to be devastating. I wouldn't be surprised if the price of gasoline jumps because of this disaster. After all, I saw a steep increase in gasoline post-Hurricane Katrina. Even if oil companies get their supplies from tankers in various ports of entry, it always seems like they exploit any tragedy or shut down of Gulf of Mexico oil rigs to boost their profit margin, citing the old standby of "supply and demand." It should be a criminal offense to price gouge after a tragedy, especially when it comes to water, food, and oil.

Some conservatives are already calling this "Obama's Katrina," which I find to be tacky in the extreme, not to mention an inaccurate comparison. Its amazing how retroactive the mind of a conservative is. All the valid critiques of Bush were ignored by conservatives, who defended him until the bitter end of his disasterous administration. Once we inaugurated a new president, the conservatives have leveled criticisms at Obama that reflect more on Bush's policies than anything Obama has done. The increasing debt? Obama's fault. Rio de Janeiro winning the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games over Chicago? Proof that Obama is "unpopular" overseas. The Christmas Day underwear bomber who got caught before blowing up a plane? Obama's failure to protect America from terrorists! Their desperation to make Obama own Bush's failures is ridiculous, and this latest gambit is just another insight into their retroactive sense of outrage. I feel sorry for them that it takes so many years for the shock to settle in that their chosen candidate was so incompetent.

I have to admit, though, that when I listened to President Obama's State of the Union Address a few months ago, I actually did a double take when I heard him mention wanting to open up some oil rigs in the Atlantic Ocean and nuclear power plants to deal with our energy independence. What the hell happened to him since he's been president? He never said that was an option on the campaign trail. It was always about harnessing the innovative ideas for sustainable and renewable energy sources (wind, water, geo-thermal, and solar). Its always a source of frustration that in the USA, we can never get a truly liberal president. Because of the rightward direction of our government, we end up with Republican presidents who keep moving the milepost of "conservative" further to the right, while Democrats like Clinton and Obama are accused of being communists or socialists, even as their policies have more in common with Ronald Reagan than Franklin D. Roosevelt (the only truly liberal president our country has ever had). Its pretty sad when you think about President Nixon's domestic policies being more liberal than Carter's, Clinton's, or Obama's. Nixon! His record on the environment was actually pretty good. But that was back when "conservatives" were about "conserving."

Today's conservative, though, is about exploiting the earth for its natural resources in which to fuel the growth of business. Its all about big business and mega corporations. The environment be damned. An undeveloped plot of land is useless to today's conservative, because its not making money. If you're not making money, you're useless to the corporate state. Take that plot of land that's not earning any money and put a skyrise condominium on it and you'll have hundreds of people paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to own a space that was once only land and air.

The biggest advocate of "Drill, Baby, Drill" is Sarah Palin. Its the mantra that she used during the 2008 Republican National Convention and during her rallies in the fall campaign. She even corrected Senator Joseph Biden in their debate when he criticized "Drill, drill, drill" (not realizing that there was no way he was going to say, "Drill, baby, drill" since conservatives fail to realize the sexual innuendo that phrase conjures up).

I read an interesting article about the mindless obsession that drilling for more oil is going to help our economy. The writer (I forget who wrote it or the name of the article) pointed out that "drills" don't bring up any positive memories. At the dentist, we can feel the drill on our teeth and the painful sound it makes. Anyone who has ever traveled through Oklahoma or Texas has certainly seen the mosquito-like machines that pump up oil from the earth. There's a reason why the word "drill" has a sexual connotation, and when someone as physically blessed as Sarah Palin says "Drill, baby, drill", I often wonder if she's aware of how that might come across in the male mind. Particularly conservative men, many of whom probably have had a sexual fantasy involving Sarah Palin. Seeing the way so many conservative males mindlessly chanted "Drill, baby, drill" at the 2008 RNC made me realize that not all of them were thinking about the McCain-Palin energy policy. Its perhaps the most inappropriate mantra to ever emerge from a political convention.

One of the things that annoys me about Sarah Palin is that earlier this year, she often opens up her speech by asking her audience, "How's that hopey, changey thingy workin' out for ya?" Her adoring crowd of zombies eat that shit up like yesterday's next door neighbour. To me, it makes her sound like a petty and phony Valley girl. She has no idea how difficult it is to change a country. Its the equivalent of steering a massive ship, like an aircraft carrier or oil tanker. The results of steering the ship aren't felt immediately, like manuevering a compact car. The results come later. We should start feeling the effects of Obama's policies by 2012 and if Americans want to return to the doomed policy prescriptions of the political party that gave us the worst president in history, then we are an ignorant and forgetful lot that deserve every calamity that befalls us! But, I don't think that's going to happen. Especially when Palin is out in the public eye to remind everyone of the bullet we dodged by voting for Obama instead of McCain.

The other problem I have with Palin's childish taunt is that hope is not something to dismiss as a naive thing. When the choice comes down to hope versus cynicism or despair, its always better to choose hope. Hope is what many Holocaust survivors clung to when they lived under the dark cloud of death day after day. Hope is what keeps some people alive. The Bible talks about "hope in the unseen." So, when a self-proclaimed "Christian" like Sarah Palin makes fun of hope to her fanbase, it should signal to people what a cynical person she truly is. Cynicism was the guiding policy of the Bush Administration and the natural reaction in people to cope with the disasterous president. We've had too much cynicism in the past decade. Cynicism is corrosive and harmful to our country in the long run. If Obama does nothing remarkable for his entire president except to inspire more Americans to hope for a better future, I would consider that to be a major achievement. Everyone who voted for him in 2008 did so with hope in their hearts. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize out of the hope that he would inspire the world to an era of greater cooperation and trust among the world's population. Hope is nothing to scoff at, and I feel sorry for all the Christians who are duped by the wolf in Palin clothing. Only a charlatan would try to make hope into a feeling to make fun of.

So, in light of the growing environmental catastrophe on our Southern coast, I have just one question to ask the Quitter Queen: "How's that 'drill, baby, drill' thingy workin' out for ya?"

To my blog readers, I apologize if the cartoon below offends you, but I love it because it perfectly illustrates why the expression "Drill, baby, drill" is offensive to anyone who loves and cares for our environment. Our ongoing rape of Mother Earth is morally and spiritually wrong, and there is a huge price to pay if we keep ignoring the warnings. How many freaky natural and man-made disasters do we need to happen in 2010 to wake up to our planetary emergency? Put down the drill and hug a tree or plant a garden or use less energy or educate yourself on how to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. We only have this planet to live on and there is no otherworldly saviour who is going to rescue us from our folly.

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