New Orleans Fingers are crossed, breath held, and hopes soaring that finally there may be an interim fix on the British Petroleum BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. An article by David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post yesterday asked in a timely fashion why this oil crisis has not produced environmental changes and victories? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/11/AR2010071103523.html).
Good question! They have a lot to say about, some of which is probably on point (general recession) and some of which is not (too far…huh…Louisiana is way closer than Alaska!). I worry that there is more to this though.
Woefully part of the problem has been the total inability of the environmental organizations and the movement as a whole to speak with anything resembling one voice. Many times there seems to be more jockeying for position and resources among the groups that real mobilization of support for change. But, clearly there is a real lack of consensus on what the changes should be.
Perhaps the largest divide is over calls for a ban on oil drilling. The ban is opposed by 77% of the American people who have been sold for decades that there oil is important and it is better for it to come from “home” than the Middle East and elsewhere. The divide is also stark in the Gulf where the support for oil workers and the oil service industry is significant because of the jobs and impact on the economy. The oil companies have also just been better by miles for decades in keeping any of the environmental problems of drilling off of their shoes. The best example is the well documented problem of canal dredging by the companies along the bayous which has led to tremendous coastal erosion with no real consequences to the companies.
The “face” of the workers more often has been the fisherman and the nostalgia for a “way of life” on the coast, but this has been a deep seated problem for years, exacerbated by Katrina and the loss of thousands of boats and jobs over the last 5 years as well. The long term impact on these workers could stretch for decades.
The inability of many environmental groups to find common cause with blue collar workers on the water and on the rigs is not new, but it also means that winning real protections for the environment, the coast, and the future might be part of the price being paid for the inability to forge the real blue-green coalition needed here.
Environmentalists are the only ones unable to pull the switch. Unions have been embarrassingly silent in this crisis. The initial loss of life and the obvious worker safety issues have not given unions and other worker advocates traction in calling for more health and safety measures or even clearing up the OSHA jurisdiction on a rig outside of our territorial waters. The oil patch has resisted unionization for 50 years, but here was an opportunity met in silence once again both on the water and on the rigs.
It almost appears that movements have lost ties to their base so completely and are now so caught on agendas that are based in the beltway, no matter how important or valid, that they are just stuck and scratching when opportunity knows somewhere that is not at their front door in Georgetown or somewhere on a street with an NW fixed firmly. This has to change!