Well I’m sitting inside keeping warm this weekend during the first major cold front of fall 2010. With seas forecast in the ten to twelve foot range, my hopes of taking one of my most enjoyable clients out to fill the box with Tuna, Wahoo, Red and Mutton Snapper, Grouper….ok, you get the point. I’m stuck at home and it’s finally given me the time to sit down and get something off my chest.
Writing out your thoughts is supposed to make you feel better, but writing out how I feel about the Deepwater Horizon event this summer makes me feel considerably worse. Writing it all down and staring at the words in front of you makes one feel hopeless about whether or not anyone really has our best interests in mind. It feels like I have started down the road I am about to take a thousand times, all of these attempts to explain the gravity of the feelings I have about what happened this past summer have ended in nothing more than a foul mood and a swift depression of the delete button on my keyboard or a quick change of subjects to how well the Snook or Cobia have been biting lately. It all boils down to the same basic process used time and time again to remove all accountability for our actions: Deny the gravity and extent of the situation; shift the blame to those that make the easiest target; encourage people into putting their energy towards the ‘positive’ things like “No oil here!” campaigns and superficial “feel-good” stories about the ‘silver lining’ that surrounds the dark cloud above our heads instead of asking the hard questions and digging a little deeper for the truth; temporarily misdirect anger and frustration with meaningless ‘accountability’ reports, or displace that anger and frustration all together by giving those most affected a false sense of “purpose” to keep them from seeing what is really going on. This all serves to buy some time while the anguish we feel today becomes the dull ache of yesterday, and eventually fades from memory all together.
You could easily fill the pages of many books with arguments as to who is truly responsible for the situation we are in now, following the events of April 20, 2010. We will undoubtedly be battling over the technical aspects of who should be held accountable financially, criminally, ethically, and morally. We will be buried in facts and finger-pointing, denials of responsibility, and an endless barrage of lawsuits and publicity campaigns claiming innocence until the whole situation is so convoluted and cumbersome that we just let it fall to the wayside. As a matter of fact, it’s already happened to all but those who were, and continue to be most deeply affected. Of course those most deeply affected are continuing to cry in vain that someone must be held accountable. However, those less directly impacted are starting to believe that the responsible parties have already been, or will be, held responsible through monetary settlements, or the promise thereof.
The reality is that no one will ever really be held accountable to any level even approaching justice. Those who have been damaged will never be repaid for what they have lost financially beyond a token payment that is a far cry from their actual monetary damages when everything is said and done. The impact on an already fragile marine ecosystem will not be fully understood for generations to come, let alone any solutions formulated to help mitigate, minimize, or repair the negative effects from both the oil, and more importantly, the chemicals used to keep the oil out of sight (i.e. dispersants). The emotional toll that the spill and its aftermath has, is, and will continue to exact upon individuals and families whose lives were irrevocably changed is simply incalculable, let alone compensable.
When it comes to assessing damages to be paid to those affected by the oil spill the burden of proof has overwhelmingly fallen upon the individuals who have been damaged. There are some obvious situations where an individual may have difficulty proving compensation that they are actually entitled to, such as the instance of a new business experiencing rapid growth in an area that was damaged by “perception” of the oil spill and suffered no actual damages. Some other complications arise when attempting to calculate damages over longer periods of time. In a business where repeat percentages are high and the value of a customer over the life of the business is where profitability is really achieved. Business on a state level in an area like Florida where an area perceived to be an unaffected alternative was available, losses on one coast may translate to huge gains on the opposite coast. This can mask the actual damages to the state by gains in Northeast portion of the state being used to offset damages that were otherwise obvious on the Gulf Coast.
Even under the best of circumstances there are damages that will never be considered, calculated, or compensated for. Damage to personal and business credit caused by the additional financial strains of surviving, but fragile, businesses who were already reeling from the worst economic decline since the great depression. Many of these businesses were surviving, some were prospering, but few if any had reserves capable of keeping on top everything when suddenly one of their greatest revenue generating sources, the Gulf of Mexico, was stripped from them (albeit temporarily or by “perception). What financial penalties will be paid in the future in the form of higher interest rates, or worse yet the unavailability of credit all together due to shortcoming brought about by the oil spill. In terms of our current credit system it can literally take a decade to repair damages that took a few months to inflict. There were undoubtedly countless numbers of already financially strapped families who suffered foreclosure, eviction, or were forced to short sell their properties because of short term lost revenues. In all of these cases, even full compensation for any and all lost revenues will fall woefully short of actually compensating for damages caused by the oil spill.
These same families suffered not only financially, but emotionally. Money problems are the number one cause of divorce in the United States. If you think for one minute that there were not hundreds if not thousands of families broken apart during the events that began with the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, then you have your head in the sand. How do you explain to the children who not only were displaced from their homes, but may now not have a complete family unit that it was all caused by the greed of a few, and nothing was done to protect them by those who are most entrusted to do exactly that. How many families will now lose touch with a heritage that may stretch back generations? How much money is needed to compensate for the sadness felt by a father, who can no longer show his son what he spent his whole life learning, and where his blood, sweat, and tears went and who now can only tell him what it “used to be like”. What happens to a parent who has to explain to their child that all those birthdays, Christmas mornings, and weekend sports games that were missed in the name of making it up to them later when they understood what it meant to take over the family business were all for nothing?
What further inflames the situation is that our civilian court system is so heavily weighted to those with the largest budget that those who were most damaged are up against nearly insurmountable odds when coming up against a behemoth like the oil industry. One who challenges those responsible in court would also have the burden of proof laid upon them to prove willful negligence. Something made very difficult given not only the remote location of the incident, but also the responsible parties near complete control of any and all evidence that may have been used against them, even down to preventing media flyovers for photographic or videographic evidence. The response of the federal government, and what amounts to a get-out-of-jail-free card is the establishment of a federal claims process. This relieved most of the pressure on the feds and on BP coming from the general public, once they learned of the federally run claims process. This process not only considers only those claims that can be documented beyond a doubt, but does not consider any type of punitive damages or damages for mental or emotional stress brought about by the actions of the responsible parties.
Why shouldn’t BP be held accountable for every penny that was lost, or potentially lost? After all this didn’t happen during the course of them providing a service to the American people. We didn’t benefit by lower oil or gas costs because of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The motivation for cutting costs and time at this well was not to reduce our overall cost. It is profit. Profit motivated all of it. Any cut in production cost or new discovery of oil stands only to increase profits for the oil company, not to save the consumer any money. So while BP PLC, Halliburton, Transocean LTD and their investors reaped the rewards in the form of decades of profits that reached monumental proportions, we were the ones stuck holding the bag when the time came to pay the piper.
One fact that stands out amongst all arguments for financial compensation, whether it be for actual, potential, or emotional damages is that most of those affected who do receive compensation would gladly return that money three fold if only their lives could return to the way they were before the spill.
Honestly speaking, I didn’t suffer all that much financially in the short term.. I did lose business and I was forced to increase my marketing budget substantially. It did put a financial strain on all of us in the fishing and tourism industry, but overall I escaped mostly unscathed. That being said, the inner turmoil caused by the overwhelming feeling of helplessness was enough to drive me crazy. How do we, as law abiding citizens, have no one watching out for us? The ineptitude of the federal regulatory agencies was apparent from the get go, but that was to be expected to those who have examined anything about past spills. That the perpetrators of the event in question were allowed to manage, control, and dictate the extent and direction of the cleanup and containment effort was also of no surprise. The fact that the mainstream media, who often consider themselves the watchdogs who are out to protect and inform the public of unscrupulous and incompetent oversight by the malfunctioning government did their usual: A ratings grab while enough pity was available to keep the public interest. The consumer quickly tired of the same old song and dance, and advertising money and clout flowed freely from the powers that be, causing them to end any worthwhile investigative reporting that could have come about in the future. None of this came as a shock to me. That this happened during a critical midterm election year worked only to fan the flames of grandstanding, misdirection, and the rampant high jacking of any worthwhile attention for the sole purpose of promoting ones’ political agenda is just par for the course.
After all of the stress and aggravation of watching this happen right in front of me and talking to countless people who didn’t care, or were so ill informed about the effects (i.e. the next person who tells me that this much oil seeps from the sea floor all the time naturally is going to be very sorry!) I can honestly say that I am glad this happened. There, it’s out on the table. Even though we haven’t even begun to understand the long term impacts the spill or the judicious use of toxic dispersants, I’m glad it happened. Given the track that we were on and the conditions that the oil companies were operating under, we were going to experience a spill of this magnitude sometime. I feel fortunate to have been directly impacted by the oil spill and the actions of our government and to have witnessed the actions of many of those around me in response to the spill and its aftermath. If this damage was going to happen to the environment and to the marine ecosystem, I am glad that it happened where I live and work. I am glad that it had enough of an impact to make me mad, given that I function on the selfish basis that we are ALL functioning on whether we like to admit it or not. It also gave me cause to examine what I can do to help the situation, because no one else is going to help on my behalf.
For now, we remain right back where we started: Relying upon those who have let us down time and time again to look out for our best interests. Living our willfully ignorant lives where we are more concerned with actions that make us FEEL like we are doing something good rather than actions actually produce results. I am sorry to say that I think that we have missed the opportunity to use this disaster to precipitate a monumental paradigm shift. Our pitifully short attention span has waned and we have moved on to other great problems that we will be concerned about for a few weeks before losing interest in those as well. Cynical and pessimistic? I guess. The oil industry let us down. The regulatory agencies let us down. The coast guard let us down. The President, Congress, and local governments let us down. We LET them let us down. As a matter of fact we let each other down! If something of this magnitude caused so little meaningful action on behalf of so many who were directly impacted how else am I to feel?
I will be doing my part to facilitate this monumental paradigm shift in my industry from a system of endless and unsustainable consumption to a system of sustainable consumption of environmentally friendly products without sacrificing, and actually increasing, the quality of service that I can provide. It will take a while to get going, and will take even longer to catch on and have any real impact, but at least I can say I tried. By the way, did I mention that great Snook and Cobia bite?