It’s uncanny how short our collective memory is sometimes. Today, we are able to absorb so much information through so many different sources — which is both great, yet potentially overwhelming to a fault — that it sometimes comes at the expense of temporarily forgetting other information.
Not even two years ago, in April 2010, we witnessed one of the largest man-made environmental disasters: the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people and released an estimated 4 million to 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Countless lives in the Gulf region have been completely altered or destroyed; many ecosystems have been damaged beyond repair; and the overall impact of the catastrophe started to make people realize that deepwater, offshore drilling tactics — and fossil fuels themselves — are putting the entire world at risk.
This past Tuesday, BP released its financials for the 2011 fiscal year. One would think that, not even two years later, the most infamous two-letter acronym would still be in full-on “I’m sorry” mode. So what were the results?
BP made a profit of $7.7 billion in the fourth quarter and a profit of $25.7 billion for the entire 2011 fiscal year. You’re reading that right; it’s a “b,” as in billion.
Sure, BP lost money in the year of the spill, as it should have. A cleanup of this scope has never been done before (although the Exxon Valdez spill and others were certainly problematic), so it really is no surprise that the oil giant was in the red. But how could this destructive company so proudly boast it is back and ready to roar?
Bob Dudley, BP’s CEO who took over for Tony Hayward after the spill, said in BP’s financial release that, “BP is on the right path, working to grow value through the 10-point plan we laid out in October. Above all, we have a relentless focus on safety and risk management. And we are playing to our strengths — investing in exploration, deep water, gas value chains, giant fields and a world-class downstream, while actively managing our portfolio to grow value…2012 will be a year of increasing investment and milestones as we build on the foundations laid last year. As we move through 2013 and 2014, we expect financial momentum will build as we complete payments into the Gulf of Mexico Trust Fund, restore high-value production and bring new projects on stream.”
It takes some work to cut through the doublespeak and emptiness of corporate communication, but here’s the gist of what matters: It’s laughable to think that BP is focusing on “safety and risk management” while building “financial momentum.” The two, in most instances, don’t coexist. Safety and being responsible are often too expensive to accommodate financial motives, and this has been seen time and time again.
Now, I understand BP is just trying to exist within the global capitalism structure (which is the overarching problem), but let’s be frank: Short of committing arbitrary mass genocide, could there have been a worse event or crisis for any one company, especially an oil titan? At what point will these types of historic mistakes be “game over” for a business? How can we allow BP to ever operate again? Why have no BP executives gone to prison for this? How can Tony Hayward collect millions from other oil ventures after this when people in the Gulf region had their worlds turned upside down? What the hell is fair anymore?
BP is currently seeking settlements for the unbelievably high number of lawsuits filed against it, perhaps $17.6 billion in total fines. That is a slap on the wrist for a company that just posted nearly $26 billion in profit in 2011 and still has a monumental amount of cash in reserves. Based on other recent, shameful settlements, it’s likely BP will be able to skip away — down some capital with a bruised image — but still primed to make the same mistakes all over again.
It’s absolutely frightening sometimes how backward things are treated. In one instant, we allow privileged oil tycoons that crippled local markets and environments to dominate a large part of the economy without a true punishment. And yet, in other instants, we allow innocent people to receive the ultimate punishment for absolutely no reason.
I’ve certainly succumbed to the pitfall of short-term memory. It’s very convenient and easy to lose things in the quick pace of our lives today. But that is why movements like Occupy are so important. They are helping set up a voice to say we will not tolerate or forget these situations anymore, and we will no longer live with the immoral motives of those “in charge.” The Occupy movement is not political; it is sensible. And if we ever want to see the abolition of events like the BP oil spill and BP’s ability to get away unscathed, we have to abolish the convenience of short-term memory and latch onto this blossoming movement. That’s not so uncanny, is it?