Quite a number of otherwise intelligent citizens here in Benicia take so limited a view of life in this world that they mistake personal, near-term gain for lasting, universal good. To shore up a personal interest in the corporate carbon-fuel complex, they latch it on to community benefit, as if the town’s finances justify playing roulette with permanent environmental harm. A strange game of Russian roulette it is, that plays with four chambers loaded of the revolver’s six.
Clearly, many of these folks had at least fairly good education and have done competent work, leading apparently successful lives. Still, you might suppose they had no inkling of a world beyond their limited image of The Big Picture. They seem lost from the world by being confined to their defective map of it. There might be no sciences of biology or geology, astro-physics or climatology. No history of the world. Nothing to an understanding and practice of economy but finance. No need for values beyond faith in the good intention and competence of corporations.
But, look at BP. Look at Shell Oil’s recent history of efforts to drill in Arctic waters. Farther back, look at Exxon’s Valdez debacle. Lots of people in nice suits, slick offices, big salaries. Failure. Look at the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan. Highly competent, trustworthy people, right? Wrong. The engineers and architects failed to take geology into account. Earthquake and tsunami showed fundamental shortcomings, starting with location. They blithely ignored Murphy’s Law: “If something bad can happen, sooner or later, it will.”
People go to sleep on the job. Look at PG&E over on the peninsula — trusting to fifty year old pipelines under suburbs. Oh, now, after their big catastrophe there, they have a new internal scanning device and a bigger public relations campaign with glitzy TV ads to paint a sweet face on themselves, though why a legal monopoly with captive clientele should need all that PR, I cannot fathom. I turn off the sound and look away from the screen whenever their ads come on. As I do for BP’s ads, who would rather spend on air time than pay full compensation to all the gulf industries they damaged.
Everyone acknowledges that Valero’s refinery next door, here, is a well run operation that seems to take its local citizenship and good neighborliness seriously. But, for all the rationalizations over relative efficiency between water and rail delivery of crude oils, the weak link is rails, rail-beds and tank cars. Fifty years ago I worked around all of them enough to grasp the limits of good intention as well as of the durability and strength of steel. Safety, like democracy, requires constant vigilance. Someone sits in a tower gathering wool, someone else gets wrapped in linen and boxed away forever. Or a whole swatch of countryside gets polluted for at least a century. It will take longer than that for Alaska and the Gulf Coast to heal. Until then, our “civilization” simply ignores and avoids them. Thank goodness, there’s still some room to move around them.