The entire ordeal has swung wildly from the sublime to the ridiculous.
At first, there was the nightmarish direct gaze at the underwater wound. For weeks, our eyes were fixed on the hole at the bottom of the gulf spewing out crude oil – like a toilet gone mad, unstoppably throwing shit back up onto the surface.
This traumatic scene was followed by the ridiculous spectacle of the executives of the three companies involved in the Gulf oil disaster – BP, Transocean and Halliburton – tossing the hot potato of responsibility to each other.
During their testimony before the US Senate on 11 May 2010, BP blamed the disaster on Transocean who owned the rig, while Transocean claimed the work done by its own subcontractor Halliburton who poured the concrete was substandard, while Halliburton claimed that it was just executing the project planned by BP.
But the ordeal reached its lowest level when President Obama naively insisted a private company, no matter how rich, ought to pay the entire bill for the damage caused by this catastrophe. What was lacking in Obama’s reaction was a preparedness to think past the narrow legalistic approach of punishing the culprit.
The fact is that the same accident could well have happened to another company. The true culprit is not BP (although, to avoid any misunderstanding, BP was certainly culpable), but the demand which pushes us toward oil production irrespective of environmental concerns.
So the proper response to this catastrophe is to begin asking the more fundamental questions about our way of life – to mobilize, in other words, the public use of reason. This is the task for all of us, since it concerns our commons, the natural substance of our lives.
The lesson of those recent ecological catastrophes is that neither the market nor the state can provide an adequate solution. Why?
[Extract. Appeared in ABC on August 5th 2010.]