paint it black


paint it black

Picture this. Oil rushes out of leaking pipes into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of roughly 4,000 barrels a day, and this weekend the first black sticky "pancakes" have reached the shores of Alabama… Meanwhile, struggling to publicly accept that the containment device placed over the leak did not work, BP still managed to send a team of people to Dauphin Island (Alabama) to analyze the tar and make sure it doesn’t come from somewhere else. I mean, yeah, we never know, the last thing we’d want would be to stand accused of a pollution we did not cause, right?

Funny that, I seem to remember the same kind of bullshit after the Erika disaster in 1999, when armies of volunteers (including yours truly) were picking up crude oil on the beaches of Brittany – "Ooh, maybe some of this crap is not coming from our boat", hinted Total(1), alluding to the fact that during catastrophic events such as these, some evil greedy bastards sometimes took advantage of the situation to "clean" their tanks at sea, avoiding the costs incurred when doing so in harbour. You’d think that they’d at least have the decency to keep it shut, and focus all their resources on fixing the problem, right? Think again, they’d sooner deploy a special "Wasn’t Me" squad! As The Guardian reported this morning, "A spokesman for the spill response command said that tar washing ashore on Alabama’s beaches was common. However, local residents, holding up fist-sized chunks, said they had never seen anything like it before." Surely some SA readers based in Alabama will be able to chime in and give firsthand impressions on this…

The whole affair is obviously sickening, and the ecological disaster looks set to become USA’s worst one so far. Lives lost (during the initial accident), bio diversity destroyed, fishermen and communities wiped out, areas of outstanding natural beauty screwed up for decades (and that’s the optimistic approach) – the list is nauseatingly long, and unfortunately, as Cowe’s Dr Wisdom Craig "Lightning" recently put it, we won’t see the big bosses get down on their knees to scrape the crap off the rocks with their Amex Platinum cards. But it would also be intellectually dishonest to drape ourselves in outrage and not look any further: sure, big companies go to incredible extremes when it comes to cynicism and utter lack of respect (for the environment, but also in some case for workers’ rights), but as consumers we’re not impervious to criticism either… No, we don’t directly encourage corruption and bypassing of safety regulations, but doesn’t this society always want more, and cheaper? There’s no escaping some questions concerning our consumption habits as individuals, or the amount of slack given to the big corporations – and remember the pollution they cause are not always accidental, think about gas flaring in Nigeria for example. Forbidden by law in 2005, but guess what? And the culprits’ logos are pretty high on the leader board in US and EU stock markets, we’re not only talking about corrupt local governments, mind you.

Sure enough, that rant isn’t going to solve anything, but maybe we can try and get the ball rolling in people’s minds regarding what they really need, at what price – because in a world relying almost exclusively on finite resources, there is a need for another model, and rather sooner than later.

Jocelyn Blériot

(1) Incidentally, not too long after the Erika episode, Total put in a bid to become the title-partner of the ORMA championship… which didn’t go down too well among the Brittany-based multihull skippers, although some were advocating a real-politik approach and considered that it was foolish not to accept. But that’s another story altogether.