Black gold, black hearts, and benighted populations

The gods of the environment and depleting resources must be at wit’s end. This time, an oil gush (‘spill’ is such a tidy, innocous word) in California, which brings back earlier memories of California and more recent one in the Gulf of Mexico. Would that those fishies, dolphins and fisher folk had the ducats, the guita to persuade their political representatives to preserve and protect their health, environment and livelihood.

The Guardian does the honour with the report, California oil spill despoils coastline in tar-blackened reprise of 1960s disaster. Three brief paragraphs sketch the context.

Mark Massara was eight years old in 1969, when a blowout at a Union Oil well off the California coast spilled more than three million gallons of crude along the beaches of Santa Barbara and devastated one of the northern hemisphere’s most prized ecosystems.

He remembers going to the beach with his family and throwing hay on the oil as it washed ashore – a frustratingly inadequate gesture that stayed with him as he later built a career as one of California’s top environmental lawyers.

Last week, Massara was back in Santa Barbara, surveying the damage of the latest of many spills along California’s staggeringly beautiful central coast and lamenting how little has changed in the past 46 years. An oil slick stretching for miles is once again choking fish and wildlife, and again local residents are flocking to foul-smelling, blackened beaches to do what little they can to help with the cleanup.

Clearly, a traumatic experience that inspires a career should not have deserved an encore?

Of course, we are reminded of the Lago Agrio of Ecuador and the Niger Delta of Nigeria, environmental, health and welfare disasters that remain, barely treated or resolved. The power (and impunity) of the multinational corporation?


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