Saturday, May 30, 2015

How Far Do You Live From a Superfund?

Once again oil is appearing on the coast of California. But this time near Los Angeles as globs of inexplicable oil that apparently nobody knows where they come. Not far from the Santa Barbara spill of a few days ago this spills is just another reminder that is it extremely difficult to make those responsible for these incidents to be accountable. If you want to read more about these mysterious globs of oil click here.

With all the environmental disasters that are in the news these days we are confronted again with the poignant question about who pays. Who is going to pay or is paying for these disasters? But the question is not only referred to accidents, there is an inherent cost with any economic activity where some kind of industrial production is involved as chemical damage to the environment inescapably happens.

In last December issue of the National Geographic magazine we find an article about "Superfunds." In this article a dynamic map (click here for the map) is shown where you can find how far you live from a superfund. It is interesting to see how even in 'remote' northwest coast places like Portland OR we live not far from a superfund in fact I found out that I live near 7 superfund sites in a 10 mile (16 km) radius. Not all superfund sites are of the same magnitude, of course, but even a 'small' superfund is huge as they have to be in order to be designated with the prefix 'super'.

From National Geographic December 2014

The history, development, and implementation of the superfund program are very interesting subjects and raise interesting questions like: why was funding for the superfund program terminated?
In 1980 Congress created it to have funding for cleaning up of industrial pollution much of which was produced by corporations no longer existing and thus unaccountable. The stockholders and beneficiaries of the profits obtained during the time that pollution was created were long-gone and enjoying the riches of their industry. No where to be found and no way to be made accountable. That is why the US Congress created the federal program to deal with a huge environmental problem of abandoned sites contaminated with hazardous waste. (To learn more visit the EPA website for the superfund program clicking here.) The fund was to be financed by taxes paid by corporations now active in similar business. The philosophy behind this proposal was that if one of these corporations would go out of business, say by bankruptcy, the fund would provide for the cleanup of the hazardous waste. Including in this fund were the sites that were already identified which were produced by corporations no longer in business. Few places like the Handford site in Richland, Washington or Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville NC were contaminated by military activity so they are responsibility of the federal government i.e. us the whole citizenry of the U.S.

When the superfund program was created in 1980 taxes to the oil and chemical industry but in 1995 the US Congress let those taxes expire so then since 1995 the superfund has been supported by the 'general fund' of the federal government, which means that we all are footing the bill!

If the California coast becomes another superfund site will require massive amounts of money.

Would it be sensible to make those responsible (mainly the oil corporations operating using the California coast) pay?

Would it be sensible re-establish the taxes that were in place until 1995 to finance superfund operations?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Climate Change and The Economy

How many times have we heard that measures to meliorate drastic changes of climate will have a negative impact on the economy? or, How will drastic changes in climate will have a negative impact on the economy?

I started drafting this blog a long time ago and it looks that the question keep current no matter what!

Look at what is happening now in the south of US, flooding after a long period of drought, flooding that will for the short term very damaging for the economy but I have no doubt that in the long term it might be an economic boom. To read more about the current situation click here. It seems to me that in this case the sentence: "it all depends" is strengthened by the individualistic, egoistic nature of some humans. Can we say to those under the threat of flooding, don't worry if your lose all you have now because in the long run is going to be good for the economy.

Don't worry even if you have not enough insurance because in the long run the economy will be good. Don't be jealous or envious of those (the 1%) who benefit when the economy prosper and when the economy sinks. It is only a matter of life, and there is nothing we can do about it. Because if we try to do something about it we'll be working against a system that values freedom and "Freedom and Liberty" are the most precious values in our culture and society. We are fighting against the most basic principle stated by Darwinist who know that the survival of the fittest is the key in evolution.

Forget about what the anarchist Kropotkin wrote in "Mutual Aid" in opposition to this view. Where he mention that the way of defining "the fittest" is based on the idea of survival through intelligent collaboration and community. If you want to find more about Kroportin click here. So, you may be wondering by now, what is this related to how are we supposed to react in the face of a changing climate?

Here is the deal. Are we individuals facing climate change? Or are we a community facing climate change? No brainer, you might say is both! How can you have community without individuals? How can you have an individual without a community?

This new perspective has to be included in the paradigm of our economic system. As in a natural community, the stronger is the one that foots the bill with more. If our society can be made as a natural community, which of course I think we can, then we have to find out who are the "strongest" in our community. Some would say we are talking about the 1% who own about 50% of the wealth of this country. They should foot the bill for the costs of climate change!

Why not?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ten Year Later and Still Leaking

It was during a storm in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004 that an accident happened in an oil installation of Taylor Energy. More that ten years after that accident it is found that the leak still continues.
For more about the accident and the aftermath click here.

This incident exemplifies the complexity related to oil production and the liabilities involved. How is responsible? And who is accountable in the case of an oil spill? For how long are these liabilities going to be maintained? What if the company involved disappears by going bankrupt? Are the assets of the owners (stockholders) at risk in case of the disappearance of the corporation?

In a few words: who should pay?

Well. one thing we know, we pay. Regardless of the monetary compensations or costs of cleanup that the oil corporations have to incur and the payment to those directly affected, we know that sooner or later we will all be affected. The damage to the environment is done as a whole as the environment is a unified, interrelated system. We as part of this environment will undoubtedly be affected. The question for me now becomes, so how much and how soon will I be affected? No doubt this is a tricky question, the answer of which is complex and, one would say, almost impossible to answer.

Some would then jump to the conclusion that because we don't know the extent of damage or the magnitude of the risk we should stop any and all exploration and exploitation of oil and gas. This is not possible due the need for these resources to satisfy our current needs for energy. But there is much more we can do to minimize risk and meliorate the impact caused by these accidents. We must remove the idea that the bottom line in these activities is 'profit'. We must make a concerted effort to satisfy our needs in a communal frame or reference. We must have the welfare of our society as the bottom line. This, as Naomi Klein claims: "changes everything". For more about Naomi Klein and her book :This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate" click here.

Our approach to the solutions must be holistic and optimistic. As Diane Ackerman guides us in her book :The Human Age. (Click here for Diane Ackerman's site.) We know we have changed our planet (at least the part where we inhabit) in every way. Humans have changed the conditions of our environment in such a way that can't be restituted to is 'original' state. For one reason alone: what is the 'original' state? We have changed (some would say messed) the environment in ways we are not aware, like the domestication of animals and the genetic modification of our crops. Even undomesticated species have changed due to human activities. Think for example about birds living in our cities that have learn how to sustain a living in the 'urban' ecosystem.

There is no way we can go back, so how would you think we should go forward?