It is Earth Day.
Two years ago on Earth Day, oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 53,000 barrels per day after the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well.
The precise causes remain in litigation, but the environmental disaster had its roots in the elevation of profit over environment by the corporations involved and by a lack of effective government oversight.
The Earth continues to pay the price of the corporate and governmental misdeeds. Scientists and fishermen are still discovering huge numbers of fish with gashes, ulcers and parasites symptomatic of environmental contamination. Coral reefs are dead and dying. The spill is suspected in mass dolphin deaths.
Americans were horrified. They vilified BP and successfully demanded an overhaul of the regulatory agency charged with overseeing underwater drilling. They were, for a few days, adamant that something had to change, that we had to be better stewards of the Earth.
And then, with no acknowledgement of the inconsistency, Americans returned to their political hobby of bashing the federal government for excessive regulations.
Within weeks of the disaster, Americans were complaining about a short-term moratorium that prevented deep-water drilling until officials could figure out went wrong.
Our elected representatives spent last week trying to push through approval of a 1,700-mile pipeline with inadequate environmental oversight, even as officials were assessing the damage from a pipeline break that poured 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. We don’t learn.
The benefit of capitalism — that it inspires corporations to pursue profit with single-minded resolve — is also its detriment. Asking corporations to police themselves on matters that do not directly affect their bottom line has never worked. Even environmentally concerned CEOs must answer to a board and shareholders for expenditures. The economy developed around the goal of maximizing revenue and minimizing cost. Americans are naive to be surprised that environmental tragedy occasionally results.
If we both desire the benefits of capitalism and value our environment, we must demand effective regulation. Regulations serve as the only fire wall between reckless profiteering and environmental disaster.
It is Earth Day.