Florida-born and pulling for BP


In Pensacola, Fla., where I grew up, where the crystal white sand reflects the mid-day sun to make a glow along the beach you can see from the roadway even when the water is hidden by dunes, where the double-dose of sunlight will force your eyes to mere slits without sunglasses, where as a high school student I often swam to the offshore sand bar to snorkel at low tide, where turquoise is a special water color telling me the winds are onshore and the water calm and snorkel-friendly, where my siblings and 86-year-old mother still live, where I always drive to the beach when I visit family there because it draws me like a strong magnet, the pristine beaches are being fouled by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The tourist economy is being wrecked and countless lives are headed for financial ruin.

In Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, just across the Alabama Point bridge where at the apex there is a million-dollar view of the inter-coastal waterway inlet and sugar-white beaches in both directions, where fishing boats clustered at the Perdido Bay coves are still at their docks instead of far out in the Gulf of Mexico, where I sometimes rent a fifth-floor corner condo at the Pelican Pointe high-rise with a panoramic view of the beach and sliding glass doors to leave open at night to be put to sleep by the pounding surf, phones ring constantly with vacationers canceling reservations.

In Destin, Fla., where as a schoolboy my dad took me deep sea fishing for red snapper many times on Cpt. Ben Marler’s boat named Her Majesty, where my family has a reservation for a beach condo next week and I have arranged for a small boat captain to take us on a red snapper trip with emphasis on the kids, locals are tense in their knowledge the oil is coming very soon, angry that their community’s livelihood is suffering and poised to get much worse.

I’m angry, too, but maybe we should pause to ask ourselves where our anger should be directed?

Why was BP drilling in mile-deep water where solving a leaking pipe problem becomes a nearly impossible task?

If you call yourself “green,” then maybe your answer is “greed,” they are seeking to make profits from their risky venture. Exactly so, and while BP is not a domestic company, the foundation of our capitalist American system is taking risk in pursuit of rewards, even though it seems the American notion of risk is fading away, trying to follow the death of common sense and customer service.

We now look to our government to absolve us of risk, to deliver the stable, comfortable life we have come to expect as our birthright. We are raising generations with little understanding of risk but with a very firm grip on the notion of rights and guarantees.

Every leap forward in progressing civilization has involved the calculation of how much risk to take, whether the objective or potential rewards make the potential consequences of failure worthwhile.

Going to the moon involved enormous risk. The June 6, 1944, Normandy invasion was far from a sure thing, teetering on the brink of pulling back until General Eisenhower took the risk and personal responsibility to give the order.

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, the outcome was anything but certain, all of them subject to be hanged for treason by the British, the most powerful military force in the world at the time.

How would the blame games of TV news affect those risky ventures if they happened now?

Oil companies take massive risks in the mountains of regulatory obstacles they must overcome, in the exploratory wells they drill hoping for a big strike, making calculated bets they will make huge profits.

Of course we forget the corporate corpses littering the economic landscape when companies fail, and the current administration has made bashing capitalism a new art form, making “profit” into a dirty word, demonizing the corporate world that provides us our jobs, campaigning against those who have realized their dreams of riches.

We also forget that it is we, the consumer, who benefit from the products of the fossil fuel industry, which has given us the mobility of the automobile, the airplane, plastics, medicines and a thousand other by-products, including the convenience of flipping a switch to turn on the lights.

Drilling for oil involves risk, meaning risk of lost money when a well doesn’t succeed, risk of government regulation adding new layers of costs and restrictions, risk of spills and cleanups.

When political gas-bags step up to the microphone in front of TV cameras to stomp their feet in anger at BP, I can’t help but wonder if they drove to work today in a car, if they fly on airplanes, if they realize the products they use and the clothes they wear contain oil by-products, whether they even know the oil industry provides 9.2 million jobs in the U.S.

When true believers preach the evils of fossil fuels and push the virtue of clean energy like windmills and solar power, I wonder if they realize those alternatives can likely replace no more than 5 to 10 percent of our energy needs.

I wonder if they remember their environmentalist movement prevented the start of new nuclear power facilities in the U.S. for decades.

I wonder if they realize the onerous EPA regulations they championed have prevented any new refineries in the U.S. for over 30 years while TV news and the public squawk at oil companies when supply and demand spikes gas prices.

When someone uses the mobility provided by oil and uses electricity for lights or computers, or for a microphone in front of TV cameras, their message of conservation is lost on me. I’ll consider them to be serious when they live the austere life of the Amish.

There are cries of frustration insisting that our government do something about this oil spill. I agree. Our government should stop covering their backside and currying your favor and your vote by pointing the finger of blame at BP.

Our government should cease and desist their public chatter about the Justice Department conducting a search for the guilty unless and until an actual allegation of a criminal act exists.

Our government should treat BP as a partner in bringing all public and private resources to bear on the problem, even from other oil companies and other countries, to stop the terrible mess in the Gulf.

Our president should stop his shameful tactic of using this crisis to sell his idea of new and punitive carbon taxes.

And there is one other thing our government should do that would be their hardest task of all.

Our government should admit its own complicity in making the risk of drilling far higher than it needs to be by severely constricting on-shore and shallow-water drilling, by gobbling up tax money from every gallon of gas we buy at the pump – far more than the oil companies make — while barring construction of nuclear power plants. Our government should admit they are a big part of the problem.

So long as we use fossil fuels there will be the risk of oil spills and all the environmental damage that entails. I don’t know about you but as much as fouled beaches break my heart, I will not be living an Amish lifestyle, and that makes me a participant in the risk.

I don’t know if BP will survive the aftermath of the current disaster in the Gulf, and I don’t know if it was preventable by BP misdeeds. But I do know this.

I feel more kinship to the risk takers in the oil industry than I do with the self-righteous, self-promoting professional finger-pointers in Washington DC.

I hope BP comes through this mess and makes an obscene amount of money while they supply fuel and products you and I require.

[Peachtree City resident Terry Garlock writes opinion columns occasionally for The Citizen. His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]