JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
How rich will we be when we have converted all our forests, our soil, our water resources, and our minerals into cash? —Jay Norwood Darling, conservationist, artist
In case you haven't heard the latest news from the White House, the president chose to unleash the fossil fuel industry all across America. That's right. They're proudly calling the United States "the new Saudi Arabia." President Obama told his oil friends that "America the Beautiful" is all theirs for the profits.
I don't know what Obama got in exchange for this unconscionable plan to drill, pollute and frack in our farming, ranching, wilderness lands and oceans, including the fragile Arctic, I don't know what kind of filthy oil money they waved in front of him like a bunch of sleazy drug gangsters, or how many multimillion dollar homes they offered him in the package of threats, I can only assume that he wouldn't sell the whole country out to the fossil fuel industry unless there was an enormous retirement payback for the Obama family in return.
In case you missed Obama's enthusiastic oil speech, here it is again: "Over the last three years," boasted Obama in public, "I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We've quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some..."
Read more about President Obama's expansion of dirty oil plans in Bill McKibben's latest Rolling Stone article (12-19-2013 issue), including handing over Alaska's pristine Beaufort Sea to Shell where predictably an oil disaster is bound to happen from the tumultuous, icy wind conditions. In fact, even after Shell failed at the first attempt, its rig bopping about like a loose buoy, plagued by problems, the president nevertheless gave Shell the go ahead to drill. Now this is absolutely insane. But maybe you can't be president of this country unless you are certifiably insane? Who knows these days.
Perhaps Obama's worst character flaw is that he's completely oblivious to warning signs, at the cost of America's security, when it comes to oil drilling. It's one thing for Shell to push forward despite the threat of another BP catastrophe in the Beaufort Sea, but it's quite a different matter for the President of the United States to be so carelessly and foolishly immoral. No one in his or her right mind would approve of drilling under such threatening conditions: Kennedy, Carter, Clinton—would have all denied drilling in these stormy waters for the most obvious reasons: too risky! But not Obama. Why? Perhaps St. Augustine can answer that question: "A man is incapable of weighing the consequences of his actions if he is without compassion."
There is no possible way to clean millions of gallons of oil from an ice-covered sea in those conditions. To my knowledge, I've never heard Obama express compassion for animals or mammals whether it's for whales or bears. I don't even think he cares much for his family's dogs. And although he gave an eloquent speech about beginning the "process of healing the earth" before the 2008 election, he seems divorced from nature, not just physically but emotionally. My guess is that he could indifferently watch polar cubs drown in oil if it were a question of getting oil or saving the bears. Not even George W. Bush could get away with drilling in this sacred sanctuary.
Clearly, when it comes to oil profits, nothing is sacred to Obama, as he himself said about Alaska's Beaufort Sea refuge, "Let's see what we can find down there for the economic opportunities it presents." Translation: Let's see how many billions this will make for Shell.
A couple months ago in October when President Obama was defending his Affordable Health Care Plan in Boston, a large group of concerned individuals, family members, young and old, students and ordinary citizens of this country tried to get the message out to the president that coal and oil carbon emissions trapped in our atmosphere are altering our planet in frightening ways, and that we cannot afford to make it worse with the approval of the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline. (Read how Obama is secretly pushing tar sands through the south of the country.) So they held up their banners and shouted, "Stop Tar Sands Pipeline."
The President smiled and then promptly trivialized their message by saying, "Hey guys, we had the climate change rally back in the summer," as if it were nothing more than a joke.
But it's no joking matter at all. Extracting and producing this dirty, thick tar from shale rock makes ordinary drilling almost appear safe by comparison. Tar sands oil destroys nearly everything it touches starting with the extraction process, through the dangerous threat of transferring it through pipelines, to the end result of refining it and releasing this "carbon bomb" from hell into the atmosphere. Approving it is the most immoral and destructive decision this president could make.
Did the president learn anything from the recent April 2013 Exxon Pegasus ruptured tar sands pipeline disaster? Tons of diluted bitumen, heavy Canadian crude oil covered the streets of suburban Little Rock, turning the entire community of Mayflower, Arkansas, into an uninhabitable toxic zone. What if this had happened on the front lawn of the White House, would the president learn any lessons then? Like I said, this is Obama's hubris, his worst character flaw: he's oblivious to flashing warning signs, oblivious to the consequences of his actions, which puts the security of Americans at risk from toxic pollution exposure.
It's a good thing that I wasn't at that Boston Health Care meeting because I would have shouted to the president:
"Well you better make damn sure that your health care plan covers all the millions of Americans who are going to get severely ill from the oil expansion and pollution plans you've approved of beginning with the chronically ill residents who are suffering from BP's oil disaster and the toxic Corexit that BP and other oil companies keep using down there in the Gulf.
And if you STILL don't get the connection between oil pollution, global warming and people getting sick and dying, Mr. President, from either the toxic chemicals or from cataclysmic hurricanes and tornadoes, then take a good long look at China's smog alert – because if pollution can get that deadly and threatening there, then it can happen anywhere."
Of course, by that time, they would have handcuffed and dragged me off to some dark cell without due process since Mr. constitutional lawyer Obama doesn't like demonstrators and the First Amendment any more than the Bush administration liked activists and the Bill of Rights. But before they'd kick me out of the room, I would shout one last question, "Are you going to allow the oil industry to drill and frack next to your retirement home for economic opportunities?"
Actually, why should oil drilling in our back yards be up to one oblivious man or even an oil-soaked congress in the first place? Shouldn't we, the voters, be the ones to decide? Indeed, voters in three out of four cities in Colorado where a fracking ban was on the ballots chose to say no to extracting oil and gas from the ground by injecting a mix of water, air and chemicals.
There are anti-fracking measures springing up across the U.S. and Europe essentially because hydraulic fracturing is a process involving high-pressure injections of undisclosed chemicals into rocks containing natural gas or oil which contaminates water wells, and other sources of fresh water that the public relies on. Pittsburgh in 2010 became the first U.S. city to outlaw fracking, with city officials citing threats to drinking water and public health. Since then, more than a dozen East Coast cities have followed suit, and efforts to enact a statewide ban are currently underway in California. It's also a losing deal for consumers, as Buzzflash editor, Mark Karlin, pointed out.
As for drilling in the Beaufort Sea in Alaska, to add insult to injury, Mr. Obama has made sure to protect US oil company interests by sending the military to the Arctic. Annihilating the Middle East for oil wasn't enough. Now they're off to the Arctic to destroy life as we know it there, too, for oil profits.
The truth is President Obama didn't learn a damn thing from the BP Gulf catastrophe. He flew in and out for a few photo-ops and that was about it. Oblivious to warnings, he didn't show much interest at the peak of the disaster—and now that he believes that everyone's forgotten, he and his oil friends continue to propagate the lie that "all is well at the Gulf of Mexico."
After opening far more ocean territory than ever before to new oil drilling, Mr. Obama gave a boastful speech declaring that "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills—they are technologically very advanced." A day after he delivered that speech, BP's deepwater Horizon rig exploded taking 11 men up in flames with it. No lessons learned at the White House.
All is not well at the Gulf of Mexico, as anyone who lives near the Gulf coast will tell you. Gobs of thick tar oil (methane poisoning) continue to pollute the shores. The oil disaster remains a threat to humans and wildlife. In addition to millions of gallons of oil that gushed from the deepwater Macondo well in April 2010 for months, BP has been dropping tons of the toxic dispersant, Corexit, over the sea and over the fragile clam and oyster bays for over three years in the attempt to hide the oil. To say that Corexit disperses the oil is not the same thing as eliminating or dissolving the oil. This was another White House lie that was propagated at the time. To learn more, I've written extensively on the BP Gulf disaster for Buzzflash at Truthout since this horrific tragedy blew up in Obama's face.
A few months after BP's Horizon exploded, Obama looked straight into the camera and shamelessly told the American people that "70% of the oil has been dissolved." Wishful thinking on his part, but it was a dangerous lie that persuaded residents into believing that the Gulf was safe when truth be told it was a toxic hell of chemical poisons, putting their lives at risk.
The consequences have been devastating not only to mammals, whales, dolphins, turtles, pelicans, sea birds, fish and the ecosystems that the Gulf once supported prior to the BP catastrophe, the combination of oil-methane and chemical poisons from Corexit have made thousands of Gulf residents chronically ill: read Dahr Jamail's recent report, Gulf Ecosystem in Crisis, and my follow-up piece on Corexit for Buzzflash-Truthout, BP's Last Nail in the Gulf Coffin: Why the Feds Must Ban Corexit.
In fact, many fishermen who were hired to clean up the toxic, cancerous mess actually died in less than two years after being exposed to the deadly oil and dispersant. There is no corporate media coverage of these reports. Orders from high up were most likely given to keep the real facts out of the news far from the public's eye. After all, such reports would contradict or make a mockery of BP's multimillion dollar, happy-go-lucky Gulf ads.
Contrary to the president's smiley-face interpretation of the Gulf, an ocean that is now officially zoned "dead" according to marine biologists who've been researching the massive fish die off, all is not well at all.
So the next time the president speaks about his Affordable Health Care Plan, he also should explain how important it is to have health insurance when Americans end up with chronic illnesses and cancer from all the pollution and chemical poisoning that will be produced from his expansion of oil and fracking plans. And let's hope that Obamacare will also cover all the severely injured victims from climate change hurricanes and tornadoes and cataclysmic flooding as he helps to increase carbon emissions and other heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere while the temperatures rise beyond two degrees Celsius which will make the current global warming catastrophes look like child's play.
I'm not happy about criticizing a President I voted for (twice). When the right-wing fanatics attack him, I'm first in line to come to his defense. The fact that he's trying, despite complications, to provide health insurance for millions of people who can't afford it is an admirable goal. Moreover, Obama vowed to veto recent Republican fracking-energy legislation that threatens to charge Americans up to $5,000 dollars for peacefully protesting oil-gas exploration and pipeline construction, which is a clear violation of our First Amendment rights. He also provided billions of dollars of subsidies for wind and solar. But, unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good; in fact it defeats the purpose compared to Obama's fossil fuel and nuclear power plans. As Bill McKibben put it, "It's like eating a pan of Weight Watchers brownies after you've already gobbled a quart of Ben and Jerry's."
I understand why African Americans are proud of President Obama. However, blacks and minorities need to make global warming a priority issue as much as anything else they care about. Why? Think Hurricane Katrina. Think Hurricane Sandy, or the Philippines' catastrophic typhoon, Haiyan, and you'll get the point.
Global warming and pollution wrecks communities, destroys the economy at all levels, rich and poor, while an extremely small group of oil oligarchs make out like bandits. They'll continue to reap billions at the expense of the planet, our health, our water, and our food; no doubt our very future is at stake. Billions of people are going to suffer terribly from global warming; and thousands of beautiful animals and birds are going to be wiped off the face of the earth forever so that a few white old men can live super rich lives: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions:
The companies range from investor-owned firms, household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP, to state-owned and government-run firms ... But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down - they could all fit in a limousine or two.
Future generations will continue to grow angry at Obama's oil expansion plan as these conditions worsen with time. Historians will ask why he turned his back on the Crisis of the Century. Obama's pro fossil fuel administration will in the end define his legacy, over and above his Affordable Health Care Plan. He'll be remembered as the Democrat that fulfilled George W. Bush's oil drilling dreams. On the XL Keystone Pipeline, G.W. Bush said, "It's a no brainer, get it done," which you'd expect from a guy who doesn't have a brain. And yet, Obama must have been inspired by Bush's words because he said the exact same thing to his administration to "cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done."
"Despite brave opposition from groups like Tar Sands Blockade," wrote McKibben, "Keystone South is now 95 percent complete, and the administration is in court seeking to beat back the last challenges from landowners along the way. The president went ahead and got it done. If only he'd apply that kind of muscle to stopping climate change."
John F. Kennedy would most likely declare oil drilling (catastrophes) and climate change a clear and present danger to public safety. Sadly, Obama is no Jack Kennedy. He's just another oil salesman who values profits over life.
Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com. Author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us is available at Amazon.com Kindle Books.