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Did BP Do Us a Favor?

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The news from Louisiana about the oil spill is so terrible I can't read past the headlines. It's lucky I'm not a "professional journalist." Involuntarily, my face just turns away from the screen.

This has been going on for 50 days.

I was supposed to speak about the leak with Riki Ott, the author of the two best (by which I mean most readable and most responsible) Exxon Valdes books ( Not One Drop and Sound Truth and Corporate Myths, available here and here).

I actually wrote a list of questions and got Dr. Ott's mobile number out on the road in Louisiana. But I couldn't bring myself to hear what she had to say. I kept imagining an enormous watery desert where Hemingway once searched the horizon for shimmering Marlin. I tried to imagine being anywhere the Gulf touches when fish is no longer on the menu. More than the heartbreak of an endless and inescapable gunked-up shoreline, something inside me aches at the thought of no oysters, no shrimp, no crab and no red snapper.*

That was two weeks ago.

You'll be surprised to hear that I've decided to look on the bright side.

Bright side? Tell us, Giles, is there a bright side to this ungodly mess?

Well, let's say there is a slightly brighter side. I'll share it with you.

At last in Louisiana, there is a globally visible environmental crisis caused by our obsession with oil-based energy. The oil slick washing up on beaches from Florida to Texas can be seen from space. This crisis is so vast, so unavoidably obvious and has such devastating consequences that -- unlike climate change -- it is impossible to ignore, to dismiss or to spin. This time there aren't going to be any "oil spill deniers."

Moreover, the vastness of the spill resists our feeble ability to resolve it. There is no technological fix available to shut off the flow of crude now streaming into the Gulf of Mexico And there is no way to clean the oil out of the water and off of all the beaches. Yes, they have capped it. No, it has not stopped leaking. Everything nearby will die a slippery rust-colored death because we have created an environmental problem that scoffs at our puny technology. We are not the masters of Nature, after all, and this is not exclusively our planet even though it is true that we are the most powerful species that currently shares the space.

And there's more good news: In the midst of this crisis, public anger is growing. The president's feet are being held to the fire even if it isn't his fault. Something has to be done, and yet there is nothing decisive and definitive to do. The spill will get a whole lot worse before it ever begins to get better, if it ever does. Like I said, fish is off the menu.

BP's response is the best part of this. Because of the oil company's attempt to shift and deny responsibility, governments may be forced to seize corporate assets and to prosecute BP CEO Tony Hayward.

The beautiful part is that this might set a precedent for how to deal with profoundly bad citizenship on the part of an oil (or any other kind of) corporation. So... in its greed and irresponsibility, BP may actually have begun the work that the international agreements of Tokyo and Copenhagen could not accomplish.

In other words, BP has now generously provided the world with a truly horrific crisis that makes it imperative to deal with the fact of global corporate irresponsibility. And this is exactly what Obama should look to. To survive the crisis and to reemerge as the 'one true Prez', Obama can use his legislative gifts to make an example of BP by providing legislation stripping them of their assets and setting in place the ability to strip assets from any other corporation which similarly endangers humanity by destroying the environment that sustains and nurtures us. After all, this is what we do with drug dealers.

To facilitate this, the international legal concept of 'crimes against humanity' can be enlarged to deal with issues that threaten humanity's safety, security and well-being by irreparably destroying the natural world on which we all depend for basic human needs like 'food security'.

When this happens, we can build a statue to Mr. Hayward. I'd like to put it in a nice, open air spot where there are plenty of seagulls flying overhead and then limit the budget for cleaning it to donations from people who live on the Gulf coast and have an informed opinion about Mr. Hayward's leadership.

*Some articles about how the oil spill will impact Gulf fishing:

How the Deep Horizon Oil Spill is Affecting the Florida Seafood Industry

Nasty waters, ruined oysters

For Florida oystermen, race is on against approaching oil

Western North Carolina seafood prices starting to rise in wake of BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil Spill Threatens Gulf Seafood

Fishermen Wait on Docks as Oil Gushes

Oil Spill Threatening Fishing Economy, Culture in Louisiana

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