The BP blowout will be an environmental or maybe even a climatic milestone in human history. Simply apportioning the blame and dividing liability for the disaster will consume our courts for at least the first half of the century. The blame and liability will eventually both be assumed by the appropriate parties, namely All of Us. BP and the drilling company may have made the colossal industrial blunder that will be costing us for decades but they were at the bottom of the Gulf drilling on behalf of the lifestyle enjoyed by us all.
It’s not a new thing for large scale human industry to cause large-scale and unforeseen results. The mechanized sodbusters who were growing a Pharaoh’s ransom of wheat in Nebraska in 1910 by industrial means had no idea that they would harvest the Dustbowl in the ’30’s. Using ignorant or naive or ill-considered methods to extract wealth from the Earth caused actual climatic change then and we can only imagine what underwater Dustbowls we are creating now.
There seems to be a consensus on who should get the blame and pay the price for the environmental part of this monumental mishap. BP is the almost universally blamed villain in the opening pages of this saga. But as the plot develops we will see that BP is merely the straw-man set up to take the punishment and focus the drama. The deeper and more demanding questions raised by the incident haven’t really surfaced yet. They are floating submerged like the underwater plumes snaking their way through the deep currents of the Gulf. One of the questions that I’m talking about is: What is the proper relationship between national governments and international corporations? Who’s really running the show?
If you just go by money, the corporations win hands down, they have most of the chips. The corporations may have all the money but the governments print that money so they are still players. Now comes a corporation aptly named British Petroleum that is so big and so rich that it might as well be a country. In their own commercial interest but operating with Letters of Marque issued by our government they did engage in activities on the high seas which caused the invasion of our beaches by slimy hordes of tarballs and crippled our industries and plowed kerosene into our oyster fields. If Venezuela had done this, we would have declared war.
Historically, the British government and British corporations have been hard to tell apart. An Indian poo-bah didn’t much care if the soldiers occupying his fiefdom were being paid by the Queen or the British East India Company (they would call it BEIC today.) But that was during the first colonial period. In the old colonial model governments chartered corporations. In the new colonial period corporations can charter governments. In the new colonialism governments and corporations become indistinguishable and they compete. We will refer to invasion and conquest as hostile takeovers. North and South Korea will be unified by leveraged buyout. The Chinese are far ahead in this new era of corporate governments. Already their government is synonymous with their corporations.
So, in this changing world, if our President wants to put a boot on the neck of BP, he has to make an appointment first. It’s hard to believe that the rupture in our Earth happened over 50 days ago and the only communication between our government and BP has been low level talks. It’s like we are trying to conduct diplomacy with the PLO. Are they a recognized government? Do they represent the Palestinian people? Are their spokesmen duly chosen? Will the table be round or square? We are already treating BP as if they were a national State. The meeting between Obama and the poor guy who runs BP is being treated like a summit.
Will we see situations develop where British Airways can declare war on Iceland for disrupting air traffic with their smokey old volcano? Will Toyota and Nike form an alliance to kick Taiwan’s butt? When will AARP issue its own currency?
The Poet’s Eye expects to see an era of strife and transition as governments and corporations duke it out for primacy in wars of economic colonialism. These wars will be fought with tariffs and taxes and currencies as well as corporate mercenaries. They will be more exciting than The World Cup. Get your hotdogs, get your peanuts, get your programs. You can’t tell the players without a program.
Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.