THE BLOG
07/16/2010 05:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

British Petroleum, by Any Other Name, Would Smell as Foul

British Petroleum has engaged in reckless, craven behavior. The damage they caused will reverberate through the Northern Hemisphere. Now comes the allegation that they helped to secure the release of of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people. This is alleged to have been done in exchange for a $900 million Libyan oil lease which, in fact, BP did obtain. The Senate is investigating. But do we really think this is a singular or unique kind of deal? I suggest that it is part of a greater pattern of contempt for ethical behavior. We are kidding ourselves if we think this is in any way exceptional in the context of how oil companies pursue profit and power.

These crimes against nature, against morality and against justice are not confined to British Petroleum. The oil industry is the most profitable industry on earth. Oil companies control one of, if not the, most valuable commodities in the world. They collectively make trillions upon trillions of dollars in this enterprise. There are thousands of powerful people who depend on this system to live at the top of the financial heap. They do not want to give up their power, their positions of privilege and their fortunes. These are real, living human beings causing this to happen, not faceless monoliths. They have every motivation to use all of their resources to accomplish their ends. It does not matter if they violate the law, destroy ecosystems, kill people, topple governments, drive entire communities into financial ruin, foment war or even bring about a huge degradation of the ability of the planet to sustain life, human or otherwise. It does not matter to them because they feel themselves to be insulated from the consequences of their actions. And for the most part they are.

It is not just random chance that BP's well blew out, but similar catastrophes could have occurred on any number of deep water wells or other drilling enterprises with marginal safety mechanisms in place and no contingency plans to deal with the consequences of their gambles. BP is just the company that blew it this time. Every single oil company is at fault for this spill. They have gamed the system so that they can hold the world hostage to unhinged greed and criminal disregard for health, safety and sustainability.

Boycotting BP may have satisfying symbolic merit, but it does nothing to get at the core problem. We need to end our unrestrained use of oil. Not just foreign oil, not just offshore drilling. All oil. This is not a pipe dream, it is entirely achievable. It takes the proper allocation of priorities and resources to make it happen. The richest people in the world say "No, you cannot make this change". They will spend whatever trivial billions it takes to hold onto their control. What do you say? What can you do? This is not only a BP problem, it is an oil company problem, a political problem and an apathy problem. We need to broaden the focus of our blame for the Gulf Disaster to encompass the collective financial and geopolitical power of the oil industry. We need to let go of our stubborn refusal to envision a future without dependence on oil. We need to demand better policy and better leadership of our President and of our Congress to embrace a more bold and affirmative vision of what the world can be like without the malevolent control and influence of oil companies.

You can take a step by taking action against offshore drilling, by all oil companies, here.