Happy Earth Day to all earthly inhabitants! Today’s a day to be grateful for the air, water, and food that sustain us all. Today’s a day to take a step back and consider how we all impact the condition of our planet. When I step back, I see gas and oil being burned at increasingly high rates, chemicals and pollutants extending throughout the soil and water, and a giant trash island circling the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Last Sunday was also the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill that spewed 200 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Damaging the land and water ecosystems in surrounding areas, the spill has had lasting damage that can still be seen today.
The report written by the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal offshore oil regulator stated that BP was solely to blame for 21 of 35 contributing causes of the spill. The report revealed BP’s lack of monitoring and oversight and claimed that the spill was;
The result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training.
So what can we learn from the spill? Basically, large corporations that extract natural resources need to be regulated. And here’s why.
Ever heard of the tragedy of the commons? It’s the idea founded by ecologist Garrett Hardin that in a common area where there are multiple individuals pursuing their own self-interest, the common area will inevitably be ruined, as long-term sustainability of the area is not considered through self-interest alone. The following is an excerpt from his 1968 paper “Tragedy of the Commons”;
Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd (cattle in a common grazing area) without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.
This type of tragedy is unfolding right before us today. The earth’s natural resources are the commons, and the corporations are the extractors working at the most profitable level. In an unregulated market, mistakes and errors will continue to cause irreversible environmental damage without real accountability or reprimand. Corporations like BP get slapped with a fine and continue on with daily operations. Four years after the spill, BP launched an advertising campaign for the winter Olympics, promoting their company through sponsorship of several American athletes. It’s as if the spill never even happened.
This is why we need further progressive legislation in order to hold corporations accountable and to outline a sustainable energy future for the U.S. Legislation like the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act have been hugely influential in protecting the U.S.’s natural resources, but more stringent legislation is needed in order to ensure that another tragedy like the BP spill will never happen again.