Eco-Apocalypse Now

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by John Leslie

The seas are the key to life on this planet. Many in the environmental movement have come to recognize that capitalism is killing the planet, but the killing just turned from slow strangulation to a gunshot.

On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon, a deep-sea oil-drilling rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded, killing 11 and injuring 27. Two days later it sank in 5000 feet of water.

Documents recently released to the media show that BP (formerly British Petroleum) baldly dismissed the possibilities of environmental damage when it applied for its license to drill. And the government regulators entrusted with review of the project likewise discounted any danger.

After the explosion, both corporate and government authorities again downplayed the potentiality of disaster. According to initial estimates by BP, the well was leaking a mere 1000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As we go to press, according to “experts” and government officials, the well might be leaking approximately 200,000 gallons of oil a day (1.4 million a week). But no one really knows the actual quantity of oil that is escaping.

The well pipe is five feet in diameter and spewing oil at roughly 70,000 PSI. The drilling rig was unable to contain the pressures in this oil reserve—billions of gallons of oil lying 30,000 feet deep in the earths crust.

The blow-out preventer, a piece of equipment supposedly designed to shut down the flow of a well in case of an accident, failed to function. BP ignored any alternatives to this faulty technology, or a valve under the sea floor to turn off the oil flow in case of emergency. “The company took their chances in not having the [emergency] valve so they could save money,” said Mike Papantonio, one of the lawyers representing Gulf shrimpers and fishermen, who have not been able to work because of the spill (The New York Times, May 3, 2010).

This is building to become one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The numbers of fish and other aquatic life killed may never be known. The damage to the economies of the Gulf States could range into the billions of dollars. And this is the “best case scenario.”

A large storm or hurricane could carry the oil sludge into Lake Pontchartrain, ruining the crab industry there—and even threaten the city of New Orleans with a catastrophe worse than Katrina. If the oil slick extends far enough south, the oil could be caught up in the Gulf Stream current and carried up the Atlantic coast as far as North Carolina and Virginia. If it extends north, it could irreparably foul the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Fishing and shrimping in the Gulf could be destroyed for years. The Port of New Orleans could be closed for a long period—with coffee, bananas and other products unable to be brought ashore.

All of this is taking place mere weeks after President Obama announced his support for increased off-shore drilling in U.S. waters. Clearly, oil wells in the oceans and waterways must be shut down and dismantled worldwide.

You can be sure that the administration and Congress will try to find individuals (possibly even a few corporate execs) to blame for this disaster. We need an exhaustive investigation of the catastrophe, and a trial and jail time for the perpetrators. But the sources of the problem must also be exposed.

The naked lust for profits by petroleum capitalists are at the root of this disaster. The Mississippi delta has been fouled countless times by oil spills, and a large body of land has been lost to the sea partly due to canals built for oil pipelines. The oil and chemical refineries have made southern Louisiana one of the most polluted areas of the world.
BP bears responsibility for this latest disaster, but so do the capitalist politicians in both of the major parties who act as their accomplices by gutting attempts to regulate safety and protect workers and the environment.

A few years back the Greens were talking about a “corporate death penalty” which would entail breaking corporations up into smaller businesses. This isn’t enough. Nationalize the energy industry under workers control, and run the industry for the benefit of the people! Convert jobs in fossil fuel production to the production of safe, clean, renewable energy. We need a crash program to overcome dependence on fossil fuels by emphasizing mass transit and sustainable production for people’s needs instead of private profit.

The ultimate solution depends on taking political and economic power out of the hands of those who are ruled only by self-interest and their drive for wealth.

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