When a disaster happens there is usually a lot of blame to go around. Sometimes it is misguided, on other occasions it is justified. It can be complicated, we have a earthquake in Haiti and we’re told 200,000 people died. We have a earthquake in Chile, that is around 500 times more powerful and we are told around 1,000 people died. Are these victims of a natural occurrence of victims of their own inept country? This can be seen in the United States as well, Louisiana and Mississippi both handled Katrina quite differently and like Chile, the party that handled it well, Mississippi was virtually ignored despite experiencing the same storm. Clearly our judgment of disasters is not based on the actual occurrence and how adequate the infrastructure and reaction is, but on the end result. This can cause us to lose our perspective and misplace the blame. Katrina and the Haitian earthquake were both manageable natural occurrences if proper precautions were taken beforehand and a proper reaction was enacted after. We tend to notice the mismanaged disasters the most.
This brings me to the oil spill in the gulf. On day 70, the United States (leadership) finally decided to allow international assistance. 70 damn days after it occurred! If you want a blueprint for what not to do, waiting a couple months after a event to react is up there. This isn’t the first or only screw up the government has done in response to the spill (as I write this I hear someone on the TV saying that the EPA has refused to allow ships that can take in water and remove 99% of the oil because the 1% of the oil would be released back), however is the government to blame? Does Obama deserve the level of criticism George W. Bush faced over Katrina? Or, is this all the doing of a evil British Petroleum? Where does the responsibility lie? There is no doubt that this disaster was man-made, but who shares the responsibility?
One has to consider what the role of government is and what responsibilities a business has. I am a Libertarian and I believe that the government should play a limited role. I also believe in the free market. However, the government does play a role and the free market isn’t without responsibilities. I believe there is a certain implied risk of you choose to live in a earthquake zone (like San Francisco), or if you choose to live under sea level in a hurricane prone area (like parts of New Orleans). Would it be the responsibility for the United States to come constantly come to your aid if you live by a active volcano? Perhaps try to “fight” the volcano? Perhaps it would be wise to move, but I don’t believe the government should make you do that either, you should simply have to live with the consequences of your choice. I conceded a role for the government in natural disasters, but a large part of that role is preparation and another part has to be not going back and rebuilding on the “sand” again. If they put themselves in harms way and they got harmed. Why take from everyone else to fund their continued mistakes? Having said that, you can’t let a disaster spill over on to those that did not place themselves in harms way, the government has a responsibility to restore order and to protect their citizens from being harmed by others. You can’t just watch a wildfire burn, you have to put it out and then place the blame later.
This is where a man-made disasters comes into play. It is similar to a car wreck, you simply can’t point at the responsible party and say “clean this up”. The police, firemen, and so on come in and clean up and care for the wounded and the blame is assessed later. A business has a responsibility not to cause disasters. They have work for profit, but this should not absolve them of responsibilities. If you do something, you assume the risk, this should not be mitigated by the government, this is your inherited risk. This goes to the limits of the free market, should a business be allowed to take a risk that could do more harm than they could pay for? I think this is a relevant question and is where insurance should probably come into play. Smaller companies could pool resources and get coverage, so that their risks to not exceed what they can pay for. Clearly though, I believe the government does have a role in protecting citizens from being harmed by others and that private companies have a responsibility to pay for damage they cause.
Now that we have some groundwork, it’s time to place blame and consider both how the gulf oil spill could have been prevented and how the damage could have been mitigated. We, as states and as a country have forced oil wells into precarious positions. We on one hand give incentive to take risks and on the other hand make massive areas completely off limits. The oil will be used up, we benefit greatly from oil, and if we do not use it ourselves then other countries will. So, here we are in need of oil and with our options limited. This pushed oil companies into places they should not have rushed into, into places that would need to be eventually tapped, but logically were not the first or safest places to go. This does place some blame on the parties that pushed towards drilling in 5,000 feet of water. There are many shallow areas that oil can be reached, without the combination of incentives and restrictions, drilling at such unsafe depths would not have been done so hastily.
Having said all of this, clearly B.P. shares a unique responsibility. No one forced B.P. to drill at 5,000 feet. No one forced B.P. to take the safety risks that they did and in this respect the share almost entire responsibility for the disaster itself. They took these actions willfully, and regardless of incentive or having limited options, they were the ones that took the risk. It’s of great concern that B.P. was left by themselves to deal with the disaster. If a person starts a forest fire, do we watch it burn and say that the person that started it should put it out? If a load of timber falls off a truck and blocks a major interstate, do we sit idly by and tell the driver to clean it up? Yes, they should pay the bills and help as much as they can but what good is such a massive government if all it does is sit idly by as our collective waters become polluted? This is not a case of B.P. damaging private property, this is a case of waters I can see after a short drive becoming polluted. The government sitting idly by to the extent they have is only a testament to their worthlessness, not a lack of responsibility.
This brings us to how the spill did so much damage, how things got this bad. Obama didn’t cause this any more than GW caused Katrina. However, the government response has been slow, inept, and often contrary to clean-up efforts. Sadly, waiting 70 full days to allow international help because of a ridiculous law (which could easily be suspended or repealed) is unforgivable. To turn down aid over a stupid protectionist law, in this situation, is a perfect example of why the government often does more harm than good. It goes much further than this, along with simple apathy, the government first dragged their feet on allowing sand berms to be built, then at one point shut down the sand berm dredging. The idiocy goes further, as barges cleaning up oil were shut down over concerns they might not have enough life vests. I wish these were isolated incidents, but we have too many examples of things taking months that should have taken days, of laws and regulations getting in the way of common sense. Clearly, this has been made much worse because of government has responded so poorly to this disaster.
B.P. hasn’t helped itself much. Their workers prowling our beaches in hardhats and working only 15 minutes at a time are absolutely absurd. This goes right along with the ineptitude of the government. In many ways they seem a fitting pair, two groups of idiots seeing exactly how bad they can make this. We’ll get through this though and I hope we have more common sense the next time around. We won’t have B.P., or the government to thank though. We’ll have overcome this despite their efforts, not because of them.
- Poll: Gulf Oil Spill Hurts Obama’s Image (politics.usnews.com)
- comparing the Katrina flood of New Orleans and the BP disaster (schansblog.blogspot.com)
- Gulf Oil Spill Has High Stakes for Obama (usnews.com)
- Audio: Bobby Jindal at wit’s end over feds’ handling of oil spill (hotair.com)
- Q&A: BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill (guardian.co.uk)
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