Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The evil hand

Last night, in his address to the nation from the Oval Office, President Obama said, in his closing paragraph, that "we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day." The irony here is clear and poignant: there is a hand at work in the Gulf oil spill and it is the "invisible hand" of free-market economics. Along with BP's sloppiness and the lack of government oversight, capitalism-as-usual is responsible for the current environmental catastrophe.

Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, lists a number of points where BP could have prevented the oil rig explosion and the spill that followed but instead, each time, the multinational oil conglomerate decided on a course that was cheaper and/or faster. Guess what? That is what companies do. Similar decisions are being made all around the world right now and some of those are hurting people directly, others are hurting the planet. The only thing relevant is the bottom line.

Financial institutions almost destroyed the world economy; health-care providers are bankrupting the nation; oil companies and others have poisoned our air, water, land and food. And our response to all this? We sit here and do nothing about it. Americans seem to be numb to all that is going on around us. Capitalism chugs along, with the same results: the rich get richer, etc.

Tonight on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart showed video of the last eight presidents, including Obama, saying that the US needs to free itself from dependence on oil, but our appetite has only increased. There is only one way to force people to use less energy: tax it more. Every elected official knows this is the only answer, but no one has the courage to do it. Oil and other fossil fuels have many "hidden costs" and one of those that is now less hidden is the environmental damage and the cost of cleaning that up. The gas tax should be raised significantly to pay for these costs.

It won't be, however, because we have become a nation of spoiled materialists. So the spill keeps spilling, people keep whining but take no action, and the invisible hand keeps sacrificing everything in the name of profit.

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