Saturday is Earth Hour, a worldwide event to raise environmental awareness. (Only an hour? I guess it’s “quality time.”)
At 8:30 p.m., our Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier will be dark as Earth Hour is expected to include hundreds of millions of people in 154 countries spanning every continent.
Fittingly perhaps, this past week marked the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s previously pristine Prince William Sound. Almost to the day, a quarter century later, there was another tanker spill, this in Galveston, Texas where 168,000 gallons of heavy marine fuel polluted the bay. (So what else is new?)
Remember the Gulf states’ tourist commercials which proclaimed the bay all cleaned up after the horrific BP drilling platform spill of 2010? They showed life back to normal and prosperous and bragged about the coastline’s wonderful seafood. The only thing upbeat now is when cooking bay seafood one doesn’t need to add any oil to the pan.
Almost daily, it seems like we’re destroying the planet faster than fixing it, all in the name of corporate profits. For example, I imagine to the executives and stockholders of Exxon, the Valdez catastrophe is long forgotten as last year’s Exxon corporate profits were the highest in world history. A little spill here or there (or everywhere) is just the cost of doing business.
Rampant man-made pollution reminds me of a “Twilight Zone” episode. Rod Serling comes out and soberly poses the question, “Imagine a world where the humans seem bent on destroying the very planet on which they need to survive.” Then, looking down from outer space, one extra terrestrial says to the other, “Why do you suppose these creatures do it?” The other answers, “I gather it’s to accumulate money.” The first thinks for a moment and responds, “What’s money?” (OK, my apologies to the late Mr. Serling.)
And it’s hardly just oil spills. We’re tremendously varied in how we’re wrecking the planet. Have you ever heard of Duke Energy in North Carolina? In the name of profits, they’re seemingly destroying the state with their coal ash dumps. (Toxic waste left after coal combustion.) In any event, Duke has coal ash dumps at 14 power plants, all of which were cited last year for polluting groundwater. (Picky, picky.)
In February, in one of the worst coal ash spills in U.S. history, 27 million gallons of contaminated water and 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into North Carolina’s Dan River after a pipe burst underneath a waste pond. The river turned gray for miles, and arsenic levels were reported 35 times higher than the maximum set by federal regulators. (Is that all?)
Following the Dan River spill, the company has been cited for eight more violations. And yet Duke had the gall to take out full page advertisements in North Carolina newspapers to “regain customer confidence.” The company’s CEO wrote in the ad, addressed to “The People of North Carolina,” that Duke is taking action to “ensure the safety of our ash basins and develop a plan for long-term management, including closure.” Well, when you put it that way, certainly all should be forgiven.
The ads came days after state regulators asked a judge to withdraw a proposed settlement that would have allowed Duke Energy to resolve environmental violations by paying a $99,000 fine. I’m sure it’s just coincidence that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory worked for Duke for 28 years.
Actually, Duke has no intention of paying for their own malfeasance. Duke Energy’s CEO said it is up to customers to pay for the cleanup and it is likely Gov. McCrory will instruct North Carolina Utilities Commission to determine how quickly customers will have to pay to clean up Duke’s toxic dumps.
Here in Santa Monica, I actually think ecologically things may be better. (Even if traffic and over development are hideously worse.) When I would chat with my late friend Gussy Moran, the 1950’s tennis star born and raised here, she noted that when she was a pre-teen, raw sewage was just dumped directly into the ocean. It was so bad, when she and her friends played on the beach they had to wear booties. So maybe the good old days, in some ways, were not as good as we may remember.
I have a novel idea for when Exxon, BP, Duke Energy and others like them cause environmental disasters. How about until everything is put completely back to what it was before, there are no corporate profits?
And the CEOs, instead of eight-figure salaries, get minimum wage! They could apply for food stamps. Oops, I forgot, instead of Congress closing tax loopholes or cutting bloated defense spending, they’ve reduced food stamps. And provided 34 percent less for the environment or what’s left of it.
To learn more go to www.earthhour.org. Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.