Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day

   On January 17th, 1994, at 4:31PM, the earth shifted about 10.56 miles underneath the intersection of Reseda Bl. and Strathern St, near the huge Northridge Hospital Medical Center, in what is technically Reseda, California, a district of Los Angeles. This created what is commonly known as an earthquake up on the surface, measuring 6.7 on the moment magnitude scale, and could be felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada, which is 270 miles away.
   57 to 72 people died as a direct result of the quake, with over 8,700 injured. Additionally the quake caused approximately $20 billion in damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. The Northridge Fashion Center, a large mall, located at the intersection of Nordhoff St. and Tampa Ave., where I used to hang out as an adolescent, and where I first saw Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," with my Aussie fiance, was severely damaged, as well as many other structures.
   At the time I was still working at the Pasadena ARC as the Residence Manager. Robert Vasquez and I had switched jobs and he was working as my assistant, because management thought he might retire soon, and quite frankly, they considered me easier to work with... for a while.
   The earthquake resulted in many of the books on the top of my closet shelf being tossed off onto the floor. I had to bend over to pick them up. It was hard work.
   I was working for Capt. Strickland at that time. And soon after the quake a good deal of emphasis was placed on emergency training and preparedness for future disasters that might materialize. I was to hold regular evacuation drills for the residence. Myself and other staff members became certified in CPR / first aid. And I kept pushing for a goodly stock of emergency supplies to keep on hand, especially water.
   This stuff was expensive and as the months passed and the Northridge quake faded from memory, the harder it was to get those supplies.
   But I did, mainly because I wouldn't let the matter die, and made a nuisance of my self at our weekly meetings until I got my way... like Andy Dufresne with his books in the "Shawshank Redemption."  
   Management would eventually tire of me and get me fired for smoking cigarettes in the residence. Robert Vasquez would become the resident manager once again.

   Today is Earth Day. Earth Day is celebrated around the world on April 22nd (at least through 2015). I don't know why. Possibly because the United Nations designated April 22nd as  International Mother Earth Day. On Earth Day events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth's natural environment, and celebrated in more than 175 countries each year (out of approximately 196 total, that's not bad). Earth Day is coordinated by the Earth Day Network.
   There will be lots of things going on all over the place. Here in Los Angeles for example, those who bring bike helmets, or a receipt for bike parking, or who use alternative transportation to get there, can enjoy free, artist-led workshops, bike-related films, storytelling, nature sketching, and a guided walk through the natural art at the Los Angeles County Art Museum just next door to the famous La Brea Tar Pits, where you can see a lot of... tar.... in a pit.
   It's true. I've seen that tar myself.
   As you can see much like last Sunday's CicLAvia festival, the emphasis at this event is on lowering the carbon footprint for human activity by using bicycles instead of autos, and thereby reducing the amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which will slow the global warming process.
   One could argue that Earth Day isn't really for the Earth at all, but for the humans who live on the Earth, as well as the entire biosphere, as I dare say the Earth doesn't give a wit's tinkle whether it gets hot or not. But we'll bypass this idea for the moment.
   I've written this post, which could be considered another event.
   And in this post I which to discuss humanities astounding ability not to learn from past mistakes, using the BP oil spill that began just over two years ago on April 20, 2010 as an example.
   We've discussed the spill at length in three posts when it happened:
   Now let's take a look at what has happened, and what is happening, before and since then.
   It would appear that British Petroleum was familiar with the circumstances that brought about the explosion and rig failure on the Deepwater Horizon in April of 2010 before it happened, as the same type of incident occurred two years previously in the Caspian Sea off the coast of Baku, Azerbaijan, namely failures revolving around the use of time saving "quick-dry" cement, the uselessness of blow-out preventers, inefficient evacuation procedures, and a working atmosphere which intimidated workers from reporting safety problems.
   BP concealed this first failure from U.S. regulators and Congress. Why? Bad publicity of course, and the use of the type of cement used was controversial.
   Also, evidently, BP wished to continue to use it in it's deep sea operations. The result, the Gulf Spill of 2010 ("BP has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the story of the first blow-out, and for good reason: If the company deliberately withheld the information that it knew “quick-dry” cement had failed yet continued to use it, the 11 deaths on its Gulf rig were not an unexpected accident but could be considered negligent homicide." -Greg Palast).
   Yet to this date no BP executive has been held accountable by the United States for the negligence behind the largest oil spill in history. Similarly, no high ranking executives have been prosecuted for the financial collapse of 2007/2008 (no ex-presidents have been indicted for war crimes either). It would appear, at least as the Obama Administration is concerned, high ranking executives of the oil and finance industries enjoy the same immunity from our laws as do foreign diplomats.
   Despite the sunny and upbeat first clip above, produced by BP to suggest that everything is just hunky dory in the Gulf right now, and that tourists should return in droves because everything is all better, new and lingering health problems seem to be emerging for Gulf residents:
   And there is substantial evidence that petroleum products still persist within the gulf which are adversely affecting marine life.
    BP Chairman and major asshole Carl-Henric Svanberg was lying when he said, "...we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people."
   You can take your "small people" right up the old wazoo Svanberg!
   Our Congress, the protectors of the nation, has not presented one bill since the spill which addresses drilling safety in the Gulf, or anywhere else. Not one bill! In fact, the Republicans have introduced 3 bills to ease restrictions on drilling regulations, citing the same thing they always cite, job creation, as the reason.
   As the lovely Rachel Maddow pointed out on last Friday's show, BP and other oil companies have not made advances in oil spill technology for over 30 years, but have just bought more of the skimmers and such that does nothing about oil underneath the surface. 
   And let's not forget those toxic dispersants that BP so liberally dumped into the Gulf waters in an attempt to hide the spill. I would imagine they're still on the menu in case of a future spill (and still in the Gulf as well).
   Rachel points out that is at least something, compared to nothing done by our own Congress.
   It is still wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory.
   We have all of this knowledge now, but nothing is being done to either advance drilling technology, spill recovery technology, or weaning ourselves off of oil all together.
   In fact drilling continues, with the Obama Administration signing off on more and more risky drilling ventures.
   And he's proud of it:
   Any  truly advanced civilized society would I believe tend to learn not to repeat grave mistakes it had made in the past which had cost loss of life, and extreme environmental and economic damage.
   But not ours.
    For instance, if the American voting electorate forgets who it was that wrecked our economy in 2007 with its policies of runaway deregulation, who squandered a national surplus and turned it into a huge national deficit by funding two unnecessary wars off the books, and gave the wealthiest in this country massive tax breaks that has created the biggest divide between the richest among us and what's left of the middle class, who championed torture as a national policy, who brutalized our Constitutional rights with the misnamed Patriot Act, who basically destroyed a major American city (New Orleans), and who allowed the biggest terrorist attack on American soil in the country's history, namely the Bush Administration and Republican Party that rubber stamped everything he proposed and did, and go ahead and elect another Republican back into office who has clearly indicated he will follow the same policies as Bush, although more brazen as the nation has been infected with Tea Bagger ideals, then America deserves what it gets.
   Elections do have consequences.
   After earthquakes, after oil spills, after financial meltdowns (after elections), after the initial shock, when we vow to do anything and everything to make sure it will never happen again, time moves forward as it tends to do, and we forget about it, the end result being we do nothing to avert future disasters.
   This is a symptom of a "bought society" (not to mention lackadaisical) where special interests hold more power over the government than the people who elected that government into office.
   I've heard many influential people, many experts claim that what will be needed to effect real change that will wake us up and motivate us to do the right things to prevent horrendous events in the future, is for those horrendous events to happen again. This is exceptionally sad and scary.
   And I don't think it's true, because after the next big earthquake which levels L.A. for instance (which I dare say the Republicans in D.C. would love to happen), or the next oil spill that sets the Gulf on fire, or the next financial crisis that tears the heart out of our country and its people, if fundamental change in the federal government does not occur, such as special interest money taken out of it, and lobbying made illegal, then the cycle will repeat itself yet again.
   We need to stop this childish, BS behavior, and learn to act like grown ups.
   And the sooner the better.
   Happy Earth Day.

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