THE BLOG
06/17/2010 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Expropriating British Petroleum

About a month ago, in the middle of May, our neighbor from the rental unit next door, got his PhD in Wildlife Biology from the prestigious local public university and left town to work for the Feds.

There was a job waiting him in the wilderness of the far north, but as he and his wife were loading up the van, he confided to my wife that the Feds had already let him know he wouldn't be there long. As soon as he got to his isolated outpost, 500 miles from anywhere, they were going to turn him around and send him to Louisiana.

An earnest, circumspect, tightly wrapped young man not given to hyperbole, he had been having nightmares about the oil spill since it happened and was riven with the sense that it was more than chance sending him into the maelstrom.

It was "the worst environmental disaster in recorded history" he said, and he assured us--before the fact--that all the ostensible attempts of BP to stem the oil flow, from "top kill" on down, were longer than long shots: essentially PR stunts designed to allay the public horror.

The ecology of the Gulf Coast was doomed, he said, and when the loop current reversed in the middle of June, the oil would be making its way out of the Gulf: into the Gulf Stream and the world.

One month later, despite BP and the government's attempts to calm the public, most of us understand in our hearts that we've reached a momentous point of no return in human and planetary history.

It's not just the oil spill, it's the melting polar ice caps, it's the mysterious, scientifically inexplicable dead zones spreading through the oceans and the precipitously collapsing fish and invertebrate populations: seemingly discrete events all crescendoing together towards a terrifying dystopian climax.

For two centuries we've used and abused the resources of the natural world on an exponentially increasing scale, and now the natural world is dying.

Dramatic action is called for, yet as always the Obama Administration counsels political safety first.

The twenty billion-dollar BP Gulf restitution fund, proposed by the Administration and accepted--under duress--by BP is, on the face of it, a good step, but it won't do f*** all to alter the planet's trajectory towards ecological disaster.

BP is an enormously profitable company--with a thirteen billion-dollar profit last year and an over eighteen billion dollar profit the year before --and to leave it essentially intact to pursue business as usual is a catastrophic misreading of the political moment.

The US government needs to expropriate the American assets of BP: the Arco consumer retail divisions, the drilling and commercial operations, while holding the larger company liable for the establishment and funding of the Gulf restoration fund as well as all the other damages.

Once the US takes control--paying off all the stock and stakeholders of course--God knows we don't want to spook the markets--the profits from the American holdings of BP, now to be renamed FP for Filthy Petroleum, or whatever, need to be used to directly fund clean energy.

We need to fund both existing clean energy start-ups, and new ones. We need to find ways to utilize and mass-produce solar energy, wind, electric, natural gas and human gas --anything but Nuclear--because accidents will happen. But barring nuclear, we have to do whatever it takes build a clean energy infrastructure now: not in ten to twenty years, but in five to seven.

We need to use this moment to build support for a direct tax on carbon and--in concert with the other nations of the world or if need be alone-- to declare a date certain twenty-five years from today, in 2035, for an end to the Age of Oil.

And finally we need to airlift any of our Senators and Representatives who oppose these common sense initiatives for the survival of the planet--and not incidentally the reinvention of our economy--directly to the Gulf and let them see what the status quo looks like. And then leave 'em there.

They can swim back to New Orleans.