Nature On Its Own

Author: Gary Hart

One of the perennial questions we ask ourselves is whether all of nature is there for us to use and then discard or whether mankind owes a debt to nature.  Many humans do have an instinct to personalize the natural world in the form of Mother Nature and to see the planet as a complex living thing…the so-called Gaia outlook.  Questions like this are usually raised when a man-made disaster, such as the current Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe, occurs.

When we, and much of the world, were agrarians, we took better care of our natural surroundings.  We needed the land and water for nourishment and the air for breath itself…and we still do.  But we continue to pay a heavy price for a century and a half of industrialization, much of it pursued as if the land, water, and air were free goods that would have to somehow heal themselves or that we would leave to our children to clean up.  The industries that poisoned the waterways, soil, and air were almost never around to pay for the damage.

As there are born liberals and born conservatives, I’ve come to believe that some of us have an instinct to protect nature and some do not.  Barring some magical transformation of human nature, that will probably always be so.  But, as mankind makes war on nature as we are now doing in the Gulf, little is heard from the “drill, baby, drill”  crowd, so willing to take risks at nature’s expense recently.  And the president, himself recently converted to off-shore drilling, is now having second thoughts.

As, in a more perfect world, it would be civilized and mature to hold public discourse without the screams and finger-pointing of the day, so it would be helpful if to no one else but future generations and Nature herself to take into account the damage we so casually do in order to drive inefficient vehicles and burn lights in empty rooms.

For a time, as after Exxon Valdez, we will look with sorrow at the oil-coated birds and beaches and sympathize with the out-of-work fishermen.  “How’s that drilly, oily stuff workin’ for ya’ these days,” no politician will cutely ask.  But, not long thereafter, “drill, baby, drill” will return, and with it the scorn for those who think we all might owe Nature a little more respect.

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11 Responses to “Nature On Its Own”

  1. Forest Henry Book Says:

    Sooner or later all the talking become bravado. We know, every person on Earth, especially those who take the realities of Earth Society seriously, knows that we have the ability to move forward with the implementation of variable of clean energy answers. Not spun “solutions” or “sustain-a-bull” dogma. The answers are with us, and being materialized far to slowly (to ensure profits). If anyone is waiting for a sign that waiting for change is over – Right now – you have it. None of us can let this message go unheeded.

  2. Graham Cliff Says:

    You ask “is whether all of nature is there for us to use and then discard or whether mankind owes a debt to nature.”
    We simply “exploit” Nature at our future expense – that future will pay us back with interest.

  3. Forest Henry Book Says:

    The future is now –

  4. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    There is a strong possibility, unless the oil leak is capped within the next few days, the gulf current will carry the oil now leaking at the rate of 200,000 barrels per day around the Florida Keys and into the Atlantic. If that happens and souteastern winds continue as they usually do during this time of year, much of the oil leak, perhaps over a million barrels, could end up on the beaches of easthern shores of Florida, and the oil could go as far north as the Chesapeak Bay.

    The fact that Vice-President Cheney thought that an emergency cut-off swtich was too expensive on oil rigs like the one that has leaked in the Gulf, although he had the opportunity to demand that safety regulation when he set our nation’s energy policy with the energy companies, speaks for itself.

    BP stands for British Petroleum, yet for some odd reason in the U.S. they like to advertise BP as standing for “Beyond Petroleum”. They reported profits of over 5 billion dollars in the last quarter, in the middle of our worst recession.

    BP’s credit card policy, run by Fleetcorp charges interest of over 30% on outstanding balances even if one has a good credit score, plus they rakes in a 6% penalty on the total outstanding credit card balance, even if a much smaller payment is not posted on time. Despite the fact that BP often mails their invoices late, and fails to post payments to their computer in a timely fashion, they continue to abuse the laws regarding 21 days advance notice of payments due on credit cards.

    BP uses Wachovia Bank in North Carolina to receive their customer’s checks, but Fleetcorp in California posts the receipts often causing a delay that triggers the 6 percent penalty. One can pay by phone but their is a charge of $10.00 for that service, even though it is a computer program that one is interacting with, as opposed to a human. BP does not tell its credit card holders that there is a way to pay their bills online without incurring the $10.00 fee for paying it by phone using their computer system.

    A customer must ask about the online payment option to find out about it. BP probably makes more money on the obscene interest rates and penalties it gets from its credit card users, than they do on their profits from selling oil. That is something that many within the retail oil business and banking industry have been getting away with for years.

    The 75 million dollar exisiting cap on damages needs to be raised to a minimum of 10 billion dollars for payments to private parties. BP as well as it’s agent Fleetcorp should be investigated for the credit card penalty abuses that have been going on for years. In addition the U.S. should consider a way of placing a lis pendens on the land that is owned by BP in the U.S. including BP’s service stations, until the entire cost of BP’s negligence is determined. Otherwise, the U.S. will be stuck with a clean up bill that may end up being as much as 100 billion dollars.

  5. Jeff Simpson Says:

    I am a big fan of compartmentalization in government. If you don’t use it, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Take the roadways, for instance. If you don’t have a car, you shouldn’t have to pay for paving, plowing, etc. But a gas tax is the perfect way to pay for roadway maintenance. Investment banking should be taxed to put money into a fund to bail out those that fail (if a bailout needs to occur) or, even better, to help those that fall victim to IFI’s (insane financial instruments). Finally, we have energy, which we all use. When an oil spill makes a big mess, we should have a fund that all the oil companies have been paying into all along. We already have this type of system set up for normal banking, as this is what funds the FDIC.

    I believe this type of solution is a reasonably popular one, but those in the various industries subject to paying the fee will balk at having to do so. They will argue that such a tax is unjust, inappropriate, and above all, that it is not needed because they are just so darn good at what they do that absolutely nothing in their automated system can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong…

    Populism fails to address potential problems during the good times, so the only opportunity to put this sort of framework in place occurs when a crisis is fresh in the minds of the public. It is much harder to argue for implementation of crisis prevention mechanisms in emerging markets, technologies, and in growing nations. Those are the venues most in need of this sort of regulatory modification.

    There is little solace to be had in saying ‘I told you so’ compared with knowing that a crisis was correctly anticipated and averted. In our capitalist society, big money lobbies against regulation, usually to the detriment of the welfare of our society as a whole. What troubles me the most is that so many of our citizens fail to correctly identify the obviously short-sighted and avaricious motives of industry and their political proxies, instead buying into the right-wing notion that those seeking to regulate and reign in large players are doing so only because of some personal pursuit of power. This charge plays out again and again in the climate change debate, for example.

  6. Phineas Says:

    Mr. Taslitz, where do you get the 200,000 barrels-per-day figure? I agree with you that the ‘cap’ on damages needs to be raised for cases of negligence. But surely, until we learn otherwise, you wouldn’t put this in the same category as say, the Exxon Valdez? In this instance, men died in a horrible explosion; the Exxon Valdez ran aground because of a drunk captain. BP is responsible for this, to be sure, but negligence is one thing and accidents quite another.

    Mr. Simpson — the solution you seek for industry “messes” make sense, but I would just point out that if there was a real run on banks, the FDIC wouldn’t even come close to being able to make people whole. The Public Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) also comes to mind, and look at its financial status. I like your idea, but the political reality of under-funding such programs is troubling.

    Sen. Hart — and then there are folks like me, who appreciate nature without end (I politely escort spiders from the house instead of killing them), who turn off unnecessary lights, but who also appreciate the need for new sources of energy, including deep-sea drilling. I’m as unhappy about the recent event in the Gulf as anyone, but over the past 60 years, don’t you think they have a fairly good safety record in the Gulf — especially when compared to water shipping of crude oil? I’m no fan of the thoughtless “drill, baby! drill!” mantra, I believe it should be done with the utmost regard for the environment.

  7. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    In response to Phineas’ very good question about the number of barrels that are leaking on a daily basis, I used the figure, after hearing one of the officials being interviewed on the local news in Palm Beach County in the past few days. Today I heard figures given by authorities on the national news that were from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels per day. Let us all hope that within 24 hours the leak will be capped, so the million plus barrels that could eventually leak never does.

    Also, in response to the question about the issue comparing the current negligence, with the Exxon Valdez, I agree that the matters are different in terms of the direct cause, however, the extent of the damages in the BP leak may end up being much greater, and the cost of the clean up may also be much greater. Since it was BP officials who told Ken Salazar that a leak simply was not possible to the extent that we have seen, BP officials were either being deceptive, or did not have the correct facts. A 500K cut off switch which the Clinton Administration wanted on similar rigs could have easily been installed considering the 5 billion plus in profits BP made in the first quarter of 2010.

    The Supreme Court either lowered the punitive damages or tossed them out in the Exxon Valdez litigation. I am not advocating punitive damages, unless deception was involved by BP officials. What I am advocating, is making certain the the taxpayers do no get stuck with the clean up costs if the leak is not capped, and the costs become much more than the 10 billion that BP said it is prepared to pay. Even without punitives, BP may be looking at costs that necessitate the U.S. to litigate for reimbursement. I believe the U.S. government should start looking at different ways to proceed in order to avoid BP selling off assets prior to a judgment being entered against them, if the leak continues unabated.

    In my opinion, a drunk captain is a very serious matter, but deceptive corporate practices that might have been used to avoid installing a cut-off switch is a corporate policy that should not be tolerated and an investigation of that issue is something that will obviously be important and hopefully done very soon, before evidence is “lost”, or memories “fade”.

    Vice-president Cheney seems to be the person who never wanted the public to know what was said when he set the policies with the energy companies soon after taking office in his first term. I have not heard any comments from Mr. Cheney since the BP leak began. It reminds me of way Vice-President Cheney behaved when WMD’s were never found in Iraq. I suppose some one like Scooter Libby will be hung out to dry, for the BP “leak”. I doubt Mr. Cheney will want to fess up to any mistakes in judgment for not insisting on cut off switches. He’s more likely to blame it on bad intel from BP.

  8. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    Regarding the question from Phineas concerning the daily amount of oil leaking in the BP matter, I was able to determine that the news report erroneosly said 200,000 barrels instead of 200,000 gallons which is what the 5,000 barrels per day has been rounded out to be. Thank you for calling my attention to what concerned me about the conflicting information, which I questioned myself after my initial post appeared.

  9. Phineas Says:

    Mr. Taslitz, thank you for the clarification. I hadn’t heard of a “cut-off” device, until your post. Without knowing the industry’s objections, it sounds like a very good idea to me I would only caution, however, that just like we did not anticipate the failure of a blow-out-preventer (BOP), no system would be entirely safe and secure. Further, we are in agreement where capping the major source of oil is concerned. Let’s hope the “funnel” works — we could use some good news on this situation. At the current rate of 5,000-10,000 barrels per day, it won’t take long to have a disaster larger in scope than the Exxon Valez, which spilled 240,000 barrels into Prince William Sound.

    The United States Supreme Court limited punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez case, to about $500 million, from the $2.5 billion lower court ruling, which was affirmed by the US 9th Circuit.

  10. Jeff Simpson Says:

    Phineas, 100% guarantee of bank deposits by the FDIC would require 100% fees, which leaves nothing for lending. We have to choose a risk level and live with it. Only historians can decide if we chose wisely.

  11. Phineas Says:

    Mr. Simpson, I don’t believe that 100% guarantees exist, even with 100% fees. The point is that such “insurance” is historically under-funded, sort of like pension “guarantees.”

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