June 16, 2010
… In Sonia Shah’s definitive history of the oil industry, Crude, the base greed and exploitative nature of oil company executives is detailed time and again, and the laissez-faire attitude of the respective governments involved in green-lighting their activities is an ubiquitous trait throughout every stage of the process. Public and private sector prospectors thought nothing of wreaking environmental havoc wherever they sought black gold, more often than not causing massive social upheaval to boot in the countries into which they expanded.
Mass spillages and pollution across the world – in Alaska, Nigeria, Iraq and elsewhere – barely register with consumers in the west, so long as they don’t occur in their backyard. The minute catastrophe occurs closer to home, suddenly everyone and their dog is a green campaigner, an environmental warrior ready to don cape and clutch sword in pursuit of a better future for Mother Earth and all her children. Which is all well and good, for about as long as the spills dominate the headlines and trend on Twitter, but when the crisis is over and the wells are recapped, all reverts to business as usual. And business as usual means a refusal to bring about serious, societal change.
… The near-50% decline in BP shares might provide a bit of feel-good schadenfreude, but is of no long-term benefit to the bulk of society. If BP is forced to the wall, its assets will be quickly gobbled up by vultures from among its market peers; if BP can’t pay its dividend, pension funds and public authority investments will be hardest hit, adversely affecting the finances of millions. And the tens of thousands of BP employees whose careers currently hang in the balance will become the most undeserving of victims if the company sinks beneath the waves of bankruptcy. If Obama & Co really want to do the best by both their electorate and the environment, they could do worse than permanently nationalize oil companies as a way of enacting serious positive change in the industry. As has been witnessed throughout private sector history, most investors – and certainly those with the most financial clout – regard profit above all other concerns when it comes to their demands from the companies in which they buy stock. BP and the other energy megaliths will never be forced to take the environment seriously while they continue to be bankrolled by those for whom money talks louder than any number of dying wildfowl and destitute fishermen.