John Hayward Posted: 16 June 2010
'[America's] addiction [to oil] is fouling our beaches, polluting our atmosphere and undermining our national security.' (Henry Waxman, chairman of the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce)
It is almost two months since Transocean's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in a mile of water, with the loss of eleven lives. Last night, in his first national address from the Oval Office, President Obama vowed to 'make BP pay' for damage caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and tomorrow BP chief executive Tony Hayward will face questions over apparently rejected advice from Halliburton, the sub-contractor responsible for cementing the drill. But who is really to blame?
Yesterday a Congressional panel concluded that all major oil firms drilling off the US coastline are as unprepared as BP for a large-scale spill. One only needs to look elsewhere in the world for proof of this--though it is unlikely anywhere else will be getting even a fraction of the $20bn compensation now earmarked for the Gulf. In May, an Exxon Mobil pipeline in Nigeria spilled more than a million gallons of oil over seven days before the leak was stopped. A year earlier, also in Nigeria, a Shell accident led to at least 39 hectares being contaminated after massive amounts of crude were lost. And Chevron is in the throes of a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over oil pollution in Ecuador's rain forest that it inherited when it bought Texaco in 2001.
Yet, why do the oil companies apparently take unnecessary risks (one BP official allegedly writing dismissively in an email of corners cut in the Gulf, 'Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine.') and why are they seemingly so slow in cleaning up after accidents? If any of their motive is down to cutting costs and maximising profits, as seems more than likely, then are we not all to blame? After all, do we not all complain when the price of oil (or petrol) goes up? And most of us are probably shareholders in the oil companies, even if we don't realise it--where else do we think the returns are secured by banks to pay us interest on our savings and by pension funds to maintain our lifestyles after retirement?
In the short-term, we will all pay for BP's recent mistakes, as their costs or reduced profits will trickle down to us all. In the long-term, we really do need to re-evaluate what we are prepared to pay to achieve a sustainable way of life for both ourselves and our children. As our book Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living concludes:
'Sir Nicholas Stern remarked in his report on the economics of climate changes that 'shared notions of responsible and collaborative behaviour, within and outside governments, create the conditions in which countries honour international commitments'.
'Christians are in a unique position to live and promote such 'responsible and collaborative behaviour'. We need to do so now.'
Pursuing sustainable lifestyles is a relational issue and depends on our willingness to heed Jesus’ summation of the law as loving God and loving our neighbour (Matthew 22:34-40). For, as the adage puts it, we really are 'all in this together.'