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Monday, 07 June 2010


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Yeah, good ol' Jean Paul StarTrek. He was the French geezer who supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary? That was his kind of engagement.

Albert the goalie was more my cup of tea as far as French philosophers went.

Last night I saw "Home", a documentary by photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand shot entirely from an helicopter revealing how beautiful this earth really is.

Then you contrast that with what BP has done in the Louisiana/Gulf of Mexico. How sad. Of course, some would say that BP is only giving us what we want. Really?

Nasa picture of the oil spill taken on May 24, 2010.


Maybe one of the lessons we ought to learn from this is that civil penalties do not deter corporate recklessness. Since the U.S. Supreme Court long ago awarded corporations most of the rights granted to persons, is it too much to ask that corporate officers serve prison terms for the crimes committed by corporations?

It's unfortunate and irresponsible that the Justice Department waited forty days to begin its investigation into the mess in the Gulf. Forty days for BP to shred documents and intimidate witnesses. And when the investigation is completed, none of the executives at BP who put policies in place that led to the deaths of eleven good men will face prosecution. Perhaps a few lower level managers will face charges, but BP's board and corporate officers will walk away, their bonuses intact.

For me, right now, nothing would be more satisfying than to see Tony Hayward doing the perp walk.

Mike, you forgot to put „*S.A.” somewhere.
And sadly, it might not even be a satire; don't forget that USA started a lot of wars for oil; a mere oil spill might even be *redacted* from history manuals...

How true and how unexpected the source, but I would refer to another philosopher in this case Karl Popper and his brilliant work "The open society and it's enemies". Not French but Austrian/British and by no means a leftwing idealist (not that I personally against Sartre (Les Chemin de Liberté is brilliant)) and as such a liberal, who states that liberalism can only survive without turning into a darwinistic state of oppression of the weak, when democratic control is asserted over government and business alike and that this can only be done in an open and informed society. So when companies or governments (rightwing, leftwing or religious) can restrict the free flow of information in any form, written or pictural, this will undoubtetly hamper the abillity of a society to exert it's democratic right to control. That is a bad thing, a very bad thing.

Mike, your reference to Sartre's personal advocacy and "Engagement," made me immediately think of individual (as opposed to our collective) responsibility for clean energy generation. Please pass along the link to this video http://vimeo.com/8194089 of one of the world's leading energy scientists, Dan Nocera, over-viewing our future energy requirements, and what I agree is the only viable solution for meeting our future energy needs--individual, distributed energy production.

The video is a little long, but if you are at all concerned with reducing our reliance on oil or coal, please take the time to listen to the presentation. The technology for distributed energy production and storage currently exists, but needs to be commercialized and deployed. I strongly encourage all of you concerned about the state of our world's ecology to support a distributed energy generation model, and pass along the information in this video to those you know who are similarly concerned.

Hi Mike,
Your post today regarding our responsibilities as US citizens (at least that's how I read it) is, as always, so thoughtful. Posts like this bring my thoughts back to where they ought to be (instead of ruminating important topics like "when will that perfect compact digital camera ever arrive?").

Three cheers for T.O.P.!

First of all: Yes we should all be engaged. We should do every little bit we can to make sure this like this can never happen again. Because every little bit matters, because everything consists of little things. Those huge flocks of birds consist of single birds, so every single little bird matters.

Second of all on a more personal note: thank you for pointing me to the wonderful "internet encyclopedia of philosophy" ! I'm going back to university in the fall trying to finish my degree in philosophy so it will be a great help I hope!

keep up the good work!

This world is in a very sick state of affairs. I sometimes wonder how many species of animals will have been wipedout by the time my little kids reach my actual age today!(37).
It just so distressing.

"...even more important is that Americans be allowed to pretend it's 1970 for as long as humanly possible."

With all due respect, Mike - the Merc you recently purchased is a gas guzzler par excellence.

That's how that car is regarded in it's country of origin.

In Europe you can buy turbodiesel cars which have half the fuel consumtion. Just sayin'.

wow...ummm. Mike?
Just when this place felt like my favorite sandy beach to stick my head in.
I'm gonna go gas up my SUV and when I get back there better be a nice, relaxing article about print resolution or vintage rangefinders or a dead guy or something.
Reality, go figure.

This is a great post on several dimensions -- photography, the environment, and moral responsibility. The aside to Prince William Sound is a nice touch. As of today (8 June 2010), the amount of oil that has bled into the Gulf is between 2.4 and 4.9 times as large as the famed 1989 spill of the Exxon Valdez into PWS (based on Coast Guard estimates of flow rates [NYT, 7 June 2010], but note many scientists think those numbers are way low). Just to put things in perspective....

One of the very first things Reagan did when President was tear down the solar panels the "ineffective, incompetent" Jimmy Carter installed on the White House roof, before happily embarking down the road of rampant deregulation. Be happy, don't worry!

The only bit of honesty we've gotten from our government since was when Stockman inadvertently blurted out, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."

Now that we're finally starting to feel the full effect of those policies, we're still looking backwards for "solutions" that will take us back to the '50s again. Big oil is a dead end, and if you trusted their self proclaimed "state of the art technology" before, you'll have no trouble feeling safe, secure and confident as the nuclear industry prepares to rev up again.

Poor BP... we should take up donations to compensate them for all the oil they lost, and continue to lose.

In suggesting that we all bear a little responsibility for the present state of the ecology, I am not exempting myself.


Paul, rate of extintion is stageringly high these days. Conservative estimates speek of 100 (means 3700) and more pessimistic scientist speak of 10,000 species a year which would mean a loss of over 370,000 species in 37 years. I say the middle log would be richt so 1000 to 2000 species a year which would mean 37,000 to 74,000 species. The nice gloomy book titled "Extintion Evolution and the en of man" by Michael Boulter sums it up quite nicely. Only rats, bats (except the ones already extinct) and voles will survive the onslaught, because they are adaptable enough as generalists, all food specialist are in peril and all island species are in peril as well (and islands are evolutionary pressure cookers as Darwin found out on Galapagos and E.O. Wilson explained.

Greetings, Ed

This just makes my heart sick. We spent a week in Louisiana at the end of April - right after the spill.

Seems everyone's ready to jump on BP's back, easy pickings; deamonising the big foreign corporation for acting irresponsibly. Weren't complaining the week before the accident as you were filling up your suv with cheap gas though were you?

Thank you Mike for a thought provoking post.

As a 'collective' the human species stinks.The Planet would thrive without our species. Earth is our gracious host but we are not gracious in return.

Looking at the restrictions imposed around the spill, they actually look like normal oil-field safety practices, exclusion zones & no-fly included. You can bet that if some idiots ended up crashing, BP would get the blame for that, too.
In that light, however, I think an appropriate response would have included framing up appropriate safe access measures to allow news media proper access without putting them, or recovery workers, further in harm's way.

It hurts to look at, but needs to be shown.

...don't forget we need the oil for our heavy cars like Mike's new mercedes c280 (10.7 l/100km). Cars are a very anacronistic thing. With the efficiency of 25% (75% of the fuel just burns to produces heat and co2) the motor has to moove a car body which weights more than 1000kg. To me the main technology of the cars today is from the 19th century. As long as we need so much oil to a deep price things like the natural disaster in the gulf of mexico will happen again and again.

Thank you, Mike. [Disclosure: As a British pensioner (of a US corporation) the growth of my pension was supported by the profits BP made. As a driver, air passenger and consumer, my use of fuel has contributed to the pressure to extract more hydrocarbons. After Chernobyl, my support for civilian nuclear power was not vocal.]
I'm very sorry about the deaths and all the damage caused to the environment.

Accidents do happen when drilling in deep water, and I haven't heard any serious suggestions as to who would be more motivated, or better able to deal with the aftermath than BP.

It has been noticed with sadness in the UK that our American friends are emphasizing the "British" in BP, even at the highest levels of your government. There weren't any official anti-American pronouncements in 1988 when 167 men died on Occidental's Piper Alpha rig, off Scotland, nor much in the population or press either, as far as I remember.

I looked at the "Raw Story" link; I was seriously perturbed to read the comments. Do they really reflect American opinion at this time? If so it's frightening.

An Oz commentator says that USA shows the best and the worst of human endeavour; these people looked like the worst. TOP may not always be absolute best, but it gives me hope that it aspires to the light side.

Regards - Ross

Y'know, I'm sure that no one is more upset by this than BP. I'm from Houma, Louisiana, which is where much of the containment/cleanup effort is being managed from, and I'm sure that everyone who lives on the Gulf Coast but especially in Louisiana is heartbroken about this. I'm also sure that the management and workers of are taking this very seriously, because this will probably be the end of BP. If the expense of the mitigation and cleanup doesn't wipe them out, the lawsuits and penalties will.

From what I've read, it looks like a single person from BP ignored the advice of the workers on the drilling rig. It also looks like the blowout preventer, a very expensive piece of equipment that is designed specifically to prevent this from happening, failed. BP kept on trying for the quick fix when they should have done what they did last week first; cut off the pipe and put a containment cap on. That would have cut the amount of oil in the Gulf by about 2/3rds at this point. Of course, it's a lot harder for people to be calm and thoughtful when the government "has a boot on the necks of BP" or is threatening criminal legal action. That bright move (not) by the federal government caused BP management to lawyer up and greatly reduce communication, certainly not what would be helpful to getting the problem solved quickly.

The Gulf will recover, but it will take a while (a decade or more). In the meantime, aquatic life in the Gulf will be devastated, pristine beaches will be covered with tar, and the delicate marshlands of south Louisiana will be gravely damaged. Just as bad, the economy will be devastated by Obama's ban on further offshore drilling. What are the people in south Louisiana who work in the oilfield supposed to do for a living?

What is the solution, so that this never happens again? I don't believe that cancelling drilling is the right option. This happened in international waters, and if we don't drill then certainly China or its proxies will (and Cuba is trying to get China to go in with it to drill off the Florida Keys). As bad as everyone thinks BP and the other western oil companies are, at least we have legal recourse against them when they screw up. Are we going to declare war against China if they botch a similar well in the Gulf? Make no mistake, someone's going to be drilling in deep water because the rest of the world needs energy, and we can't stop them unless we're willing to go to war. I don't see Americans as being willing to shed blood for no oil.

Instead, we need to learn from this, and I'm sure we will. Maybe we'll drill in much shallower water where we KNOW oil is, like off the west and east coasts of the US, because it is much safer and we can send divers down to quickly fix such an accident in coastal waters. Maybe we need to have a valid Plan B for when something goes wrong a mile down, because we obviously didn't. Maybe the federal government should have responded to Louisiana's urgent requests for oil containment booms weeks before they eventually did, due to bureaucratic feet-dragging (and, partially, because Louisiana has a Republican governor and politics played an ugly part here).

Martin Doonan if they were concerned with safety as you say, they'd be issuing the poorly paid, bussed in, mostly black workers gas masks, because in 5-10 years, Gulf Oil Syndrome is gonna come knocking to collect it's cancer toll from the dispersant fumes they're breathing in.

They've issued them cheap paper suits to make them look more PR friendly, but have been told they will be fired if they wear breathing masks. Makes it look too hazardous for photo ops, you see.

Not to mention they'd figure out ways to set up health insurance for them, seeing as they currently have none available in their income bracket, thanks to the horribly flawed private health care insurance scheme the US uses.

The natural next step is for BP to be declared too big to fail and the US taxpayer will have to bail it out.

Governments are supposed to protect citizens.

Governments are supposed to protect citizens.

Governments are supposed to protect citizens.

It needs repeating because people seem to have forgotten it.

"To me the main technology of the cars today is from the 19th century. As long as we need so much oil to a deep price things like the natural disaster in the gulf of mexico will happen again and again."

So true. Most of us who follow energy issues were just waiting for this one to happen. It's still spectacularly bad, though. People won't really complain until there's oil all over the beaches of western Florida, but that's coming. We'll get a few more converts, but at what a cost.


I'd also like to know how the wildlife affected will be "adequately compensated".

I think engagement in this circumstance almost certainly calls for ditching the car. It may also mean bicycling through the winter. But don't worry, the failure of political engagement by others means that in a few years, biking in the winter in Waukeshaw won't be nearly so, um, cold.

I've just received my copy of the gorgeous B&W A Louisiana Story today.
How sad...

Strikes me that oil spills are far more likely to happen — and be harder to fix — when enviromental regulations push the rigs out into deep, deep water.

Robert said:

"Strikes me that oil spills are far more likely to happen — and be harder to fix — when enviromental regulations push the rigs out into deep, deep water."

There have been significant oil spills in shallow water too. What makes spills more likely to happen is bad engineering, gutless corporate decisions, and the fact that people don't end up in jail for negligence when stuff like this happens.

Blaming environmentalists because oil companies go drill out beyond the limits of the current legislative jurisdiction is a peculiar way to look at things.

We are all to blame. No one is innocent in this disaster.

So funny, all that talk of cars recently on this (rather excellent) blog. And there, on the left hand side all that time was a little advert for a company that makes a version of one of the simplest, most effective and most fun solutions to the energy crisis: the bicycle.

What seems particularly scary is that access is being denied under BPs rules. The increasing acceptance that business should make any rules - always with self interest in mind - is a growing concern to me.

Offshore rigs in American waters are not required to be equipped with acoustic shutoff switches. The Deepwater Horizon rig did not include such a device. In contrast, rigs in Norway and Brazil are required to have these devices. Now, why would that be?

One other point: BP promised in their drilling plan that they could deal with a spill larger than the one that is actually occurring. They also misstated, repeatedly, the flow volume of this leak by 400 to 2000 percent. They also are systematically excluding the press and our elected representatives from spill areas.

BP have -- demonstrably -- lied, and lied, and lied some more. That is not a pattern of behavior followed by people or organizations who have acted in good faith. And yet still there are people in this thread who would defend them. That is astonishing and depressing.

My prediction: Taxpayer will, as usual, pay the bill for one part of the damage, wildlife will pay for the rest. The guys at BP don't worry about much else than a pesky PR inconvenience and their stock going down a bit. They know both wont last for more than some weeks, and thats it.

If all else fails, a spin-off owning the platform and the spill can quickly be founded and go bankrupt immediately.

Our way of life is criminal. Trading extinctions from preventable accidents for the convenience of cheap energy? Hello, self-important much?

I don't want to scapegoat BP. I also don't want to overstate the impact of a photo on the realization of human (not just American) guilt.

We aren't accepting our guilt because that would require we change our lives top to bottom and our heads are buried too deeply in the oil-drenched sand for that. We shake our heads and drive our SUV's to work, buy our shipped-from-China cheap products, and fuggedaboutit.

Criminals and ne'er-do-wells, all.

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