Lessons from BP’s oil spill

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By John Bartlit

What are the most important lessons we can take from the BP oil spill 48 miles into the Gulf off the Louisiana coast?

The first group is a batch of slogans. These varied morsels make up the bulk of the news. Examples are:

• Stop offshore drilling.

• The government is made of incompetent liars.

• Rich corporations are greedy sharks headed by phony numbskulls.

• Ignore experts. They get money from some interest or other.

A further look finds more involved and coherent aspects to apply to this and other issues, such as:

Henchmen point fingers. A look at the Gulf’s dirty goo teaches that time spent pointing fingers does nothing to solve the problem or slow the spread of damage from it. People get riled when they see BP and its cohorts turn to finger-pointing.

Yet just as many people think pointing fingers is proudly productive when it gushes in the news year after year. I refer, of course, to the many straw bosses in our two leading parties — the henchmen who think finger-pointing is the best of political art and science.

Pointing fingers does nothing for oil leaks, BP, political parties, the nation or any other problem. That point is clear when we look at BP’s oil in the Gulf.

Meanwhile years pass and tar balls of finger-pointing keep coming from the two parties to blacken the public beach.

The environment is part of the economy. The old bumper sticker rasps: “Environmental Rules Wreck the Economy.” Now the Gulf oil spill spawns grim reports of economic wreckage. The mounting economic losses are hitting shrimp fishers and sellers, sport fishing guides, resort workers, hotel and restaurant workers.

Then we have the BP shareholders’ losses.

We see the dollar loss that comes from a wrecked environment.

On the up side, count the products that companies create and sell to guard the environment. Products range from all types of air and water pollution control systems to large safety shutoff valves and oil-grabbing booms for skimming oil out of water.

The profits and jobs in environmental safeguards add to the nation’s economy the same as any other business.

The economy is part of the environment. There is no doubt that too much economic weight was the chief cause of the Gulf disaster. By any measure, the balance of interests was off the mark. The economic part outweighed the environment part by so much that they sunk each other. Both suffered huge losses.  

Yet the resources of ships, robots, engineers and money used on the oil leak and aftereffects are themselves products of a diverse economy.    

In clearer form, consider a frequent disaster in which the economic focus does not initiate the environmental ruin, such as earthquakes. Think back to Haiti. The resources employed to cut nature’s losses are fossil-fueled ships and shovels, food supplies, medical aid, engineers and money. Again we apply the products of a diverse economy.

The economy is a tool that is vital to the environment.    

Selecting only the grimmest footage adds to the damage. The news media select newsworthy footage of damage to show 24/7. An often-run shot shows the greasy muck moving into marshland. Also popular in the news are tar balls on desolate beaches and shots of oil-coated pelicans. These selected snapshots are all tragic, vital and true.

Equally tragic, vital and true are snapshots that are not selected for showing. These are the shots of tourist spots on the Gulf coast that have no greasy muck, tar balls or oil-soaked birds.

The result of telling only the grimmest parts is that places without environmental damage suffer the same economic loss as the places worst hit. Lacking the whole story, travelers stay away all along the coast.

Reporters compete to show the worst, devoid of context. The bad news contest worsens the total damage to the region’s economy.     

The hard lessons to be taken from the Gulf oil spill have real value.

So do the weightier lessons found in the muck.