Instead of sitting helplessly on the sidelines, here are six things every American can do.
BP has failed repeatedly to stop the gushing oil disaster in the Gulf. It's trying again—using a technique that risks making matters worse—and saying that there may be no repair until August, when it finishes drilling relief wells.
The media, meanwhile, is treating much of the news from the Gulf like it's a contest between the "Drill Baby Drill" crowd and the Obama administration. It's not. It's a national disaster.
While those of us outside the world of deep-sea engineering have limited knowledge, there are some things we can and should demand:
- The federal government needs to take charge and put BP under
temporary receivership as recommended
former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. BP was dishonest about the
quantities of oil flowing into the Gulf, and their
initial repair efforts have failed. The federal government is
accountable to the American people, and it needs to decide what
to do to protect our nation's water, wildlife, and shorelines of the
Gulf (and wherever
else the oil travels). As Reich argues,
receivership would allow the government
to act with full authority and accountability, and to call on all the
expertise available (not just BP's) to help make the difficult calls.
cleaning and protection of coastlines needs to be ramped up.
Whether that means hiring more local fishers, bringing in National Guard
troops, or deploying citizen brigades on the beaches, the response needs
aggressive and sustained. Even if the oil stopped flowing today, the
contamination would continue washing up in sensitive coastal regions for
or longer. All workers should have training, equipment, and protective
keep them from being sickened by the oil and the toxic dispersants.
should be generous pay for the armies of bird-rescuers and beach
cleaners, and those out protecting shorelines with boats and booms.
Families who are the immediate victims of the disaster
should get first crack at the jobs, and their wages will help sustain
the region through this economic storm. Charge BP (and any
other companies responsible for the disaster) the full costs for as long
takes to get this region clean, whether it's months or years.
the least toxic chemical dispersants and insist
disclosure of the makeup of all the dispersants being dumped into
Gulf. The U.S. EPA should determine which dispersants, if any, are used
on the long-term health of the Gulf and its shorelines and estuaries,
on which companies have
ties with BP or which chemicals will be most likely to hide the
effects and protect BP from
embarrassing images of oil slicks. Use emergency powers, if necessary,
to get a full disclosure of the makeup of the dispersants from BP or
whoever is refusing to release it.
Without this information, there's no way to keep the emergency
to properly treat stricken birds and sea life, and to assess the
BP, but also other oil companies. They are all
spilling oil (see what Shell
is doing in Nigeria, for example),
and causing direct environmental damage. But using oil, no matter what
company pumps it, is putting our entire planet at risk through disruption
the climate. Melting ice caps, changing rainfall patterns,
failing crops are already happening, but that is only the beginning if
tipping points. We must kick our fossil fuel addiction.
This is our part of the solution.
- Begin a massive conversion to energy efficiency and renewable energy. There is a lot of blame to go around for this disaster, from the practice of putting cronies in charge of regulation to the corporate culture of putting profits above all else. But this disaster is above all happening because the oil that is easy to get to is already taken. Now oil companies are trying to get the oil that's hard to reach, from deep under the oceans, from hostile regions of the world, and from dirty and destructive sources like tar sands. We've entered a time that analyst and author Michael Klare calls "The Age of Tough Oil," and the costs—human, environmental, economic, and strategic—are rising with each new barrel. Making our economy more energy efficient and building a renewable energy infrastructure offer immediate benefits in terms of jobs and economic stimulus and will sustain generations to come.