BP spills into Lake Michigan; Obama poised to salt wound

Michael Williams

Nothing makes an environmentalist out of the indifferent like an oil spill. I lived 20 minutes away when Canadian company Enbridge pissed oil into the Kalamazoo River. In the summer of 2010, you could almost hear the tripe silence and watch the gawk ensue.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

Last week, when BP added Lake Michigan to its spill list (which rhymes with kill list), outrage ensued, but mostly from people who already cared. The oil was comprised mostly of tarsands, an ecologically lethal form of petroleum from Alberta.I’m Facebook advantaged with this kind of thing. I live in a wonderland of confirmation bias buttressed by my “slactivist” friends sharing devastating pictures minute by minute.

Days later, BP announced its previous estimates were wrong, that more tarsands were spilled than thought. At most, 755 gallons of tarsands were spilled.My Chicagoan brother’s water supply jeopardized. The moment when Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel stands for something other than continued Windy City corruption, demanding “a full accounting to the public and the city of Chicago of the damage that was done…and what actions the company will take to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Emanuel put it poignantly, “this is about making sure our residents have safe water,” a novel concept. Like the Kalamazoo area, Chicagoland is now a capital of tree-hugging. An oil spill in Galveston Bay put about 170,000 gallons of oil into the ocean last week, according to PolicyMic. And an Ohio nature reserve was hit with 20,000 gallons shortly before.

Oil spills are now commonplace, totally normal. We’re quickly desensitizing to them. I fear a habituation in response to coming disasters. Processing these spills as ordinary sanctions the public-private collusions that determine our future to not worry about backlash.

In fact, BP’s public relations consultant Peter Sandman developed a formula for determining a resource company’s danger after polluting: risk equals hazard plus outrage. This cynical attitude epitomizes dominant corporate perspectives toward ecology. A company is only accountable to local populations insofar as those populations care. And yet, the entire globe, the web of inexorable interconnection, should be angry.

The climate consensus is clear. A few weeks ago, NASA published a study concluding that global civilization is heading toward “irreversible collapse,” consoling readers that “advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.” In other words, it happened to the Han and Roman empires, and it’ll happen to us, just on a global scale.

Last week, after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “most comprehensive” report to date, its chairman Rajendra Pachauri noted “the impacts of climate change could lead to greater incidents of pockets of poverty, even in rich countries, [climate change] could lead to impoverishment of some particular communities.”

Hopefully this will inform the coming White House decision about the Keystone XL pipeline, which environmentalists and NASA directors alike argue will be the climate’s nail in the coffin through transport of tarsands. Even Secretary of State John Kerry noted that “unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.”

It’s clear then that the State Department’s environmental impact assessment (ala Kerry) of Keystone XL involved malpractice, bypassing scientific scrutiny to publish almost zero significant problems.

However dangerous the Keystone XL may be, it’s not the only pipeline moving tar-sands. They journey the Midwest and under the Straits of Mackinac. And we’re all implicated.I have a car. I drive to destinations within walking distance. I am complicit in ravaging wilderness and rapacious resource extraction. I’m a 21st century “conscious” consumer, with an anti-BP sticker on my slave made Macbook.

I’m skeptical of solutions. Innovative technologies, most petro-based, developed to filter plastic out of oceans could be fitted for freshwater too. Until we have franken-fish generators powered by windmills (or solar or bike power), we can gather at the shore to watch fish stomachs surface filled with sandy oil.