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Entries tagged "BP oil disaster"

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Spending is Not Growth: The Case Against GDP

August 6, 2013 ·

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley meets with GPI representatives, by Tom Nappi at Annapolis, Maryland / FlickrGross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure of final market value of goods/services produced by a country in a specific time period—nothing more, nothing less. It is easy, however, to fall under the misconception that GDP is a reliable indicator of economic growth or of a country’s well-being.

One of the core problems with GDP is that it only adds. That is, GDP calculates any kind of spending as improving the health of an economy—a limitation that is clearly problematic.

As an example, how does GDP account for an economic disaster? The oil spill British Petroleum (BP) caused in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is a perfect example of the limitations of GDP. The transactions made to replace assets damaged or destroyed by such a disaster are not differentiated in final GDP scores, to the tune of about $20 billion in the 2010 oil spill.

Not to mention, an oil spill negatively affects the local economy in so many ways that GDP does not account for: for instance, fishermen losing their jobs and livelihood, restaurants temporarily closing or going out of business entirely, and tourism in the area rapidly declining. Moreover, the local ecosystem is completely thrown off balance and damaged, sometimes irreparably, for many years to come.

Hurricane Katrina provides another significant example of GDP’s limitations: With about $250 billion in cleanup costs, the hurricane’s effect on GDP certainly did not reflect the well-being of New Orleans citizens or economy in the years following the disaster. Thousands of former residents were permanently displaced, and the city is still struggling to approach pre-Katrina population figures. As of 2012, the city has reached only 80 percent of its former population.

Although Louisiana’s GDP initially dropped off after the disaster, as the cleanup effort began it quickly began to climb, approaching pre-disaster numbers within only five years. Yet while the state’s GDP was rapidly recovering, the city itself was not: Alyson Plyer, the chief demographer at the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, estimated in 2010 that the city was only “five years into a 10- to 20-year recovery project.” Going by GDP alone, however, the disaster seemed to be a hiccup rather than a monumentally disruptive catastrophe.

Economic disasters like the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina demonstrate the inherent limitations of GDP as a measurement of economic growth, health, or the well-being of citizens in an economy. GDP scores are simply not built to accommodate these negative externalities that affect people, wildlife, ecosystems, and communities.

However, alternative methods have been developed to more accurately account for these externalities. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), developed by ecological economists in the 1980s and 90s, is much better equipped to measure activities that diminish financial and social well-being and negatively impact the environment. GPI, for instance, quantifies externalities such as ozone depletion or loss of wetlands as harmful costs—whereas GDP is not able to differentiate these harmful costs from positive economic activity so long as dollars are being spent.

Some states have already started to move away from GDP because of its inherent limitations: Despite early opposition, Maryland—in conjunction with the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research—developed and implemented a GPI tool for policy-makers in early 2010. The tool, which measures how indicators of well-being interact with and affect each other, uses 26 different indicators from economic, environmental, and social categories to calculate GPI.

Maryland’s successful adoption of GPI will hopefully encourage other states to follow suit and develop similar measurements for a more sustainable economic future—one that values its citizens and the environment more highly than the dollar.


Michael Faul is an intern for the New Economy Working Group project.

Photo Slideshow: An Act of Art

July 9, 2012 ·

On July 7 in London I had the honor of joining artist activists from LiberateTate in a guerilla installation and performance piece at the Tate Modern Museum.

Photo 1: The piece, entitled “The Gift,” is just the latest in a series of artistic direct actions to denounce BP’s financial support of the museum and other iconic cultural institutions and events (BP’s also a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics taking place this month in London).

Previous actions – both beautiful and profound – include Human Cost, Toni and Bobbi and my favorite – Dead in the Water. It involved a batch of very ripe fish tied to helium balloons released to the ceiling of the main exhibition hall to commemorate the BP disaster that spewed 5,000 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, decimating sea life.

Photo 2: By the time I arrived – late – crews had already carried pieces of The Gift from three different parts of the city to the Tate and forced their way into the loading doors at the top of the (aptly named) Turbine Hall. This was no small feat – one security guard actually laid down in front of the dories carrying the one and a half tons of steel, wood, and fiberglass in this must see video. Having direct action tactics used against you while doing a direct action is a little disorienting. I hope someone got his number to recruit him for the next action.

Photo 3: As museum-goers watched curiously I forced my way past a very polite security guard and jumped in the 100-strong human chain encircling the blade and the assembly team.

Photo 4: I even got a chance to be part of the hands-on crew that lowered the turbine blade to rest on the museum floor.

Photo 5: It caused a bit of a ruckus, and showed up on BBC Radio 4 and the Guardian.

Photo 6: Apparently in the UK no gallery can refuse a gift of art, and so once The Gift was officially presented to the museum staff – along with documentation of the preceding performances – the Tate Modern became the proud owner of its own wind turbine blade. And technically, nothing about the action was ‘illegal.’ 

Photo 7: Still, the police weren’t particularly happy we were leaving behind a giant symbol of what the British government should be (but isn’t) supporting – i.e. clean renewable energy – in the middle of one their most popular public spaces.

Photo 8: And they almost didn’t let us leave the museum without it.

Photo 9: But it was too late. As soon as we set the blade on the floor and we walked away eager visitors wanted to know what it was all about. The message was already out.

Photo 10: Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for museum staff to disassemble The Gift.

Photo 11: But by then we were off to celebrate a day’s work well done with a pint of London’s finest by the River Thames!

From the Frontlines: July 6, 2010

July 6, 2010 ·

The DOJ finally files suit to block Arizona's immigration law.

Oil threatens Louisiana tribal life.  “If we have to leave, we’ll be spread out and no longer be a community,” she explains. “We don’t know where we’d go. BP should try to keep this community together because it’s their oil that’ll cause us to separate. Our attachment to our land is everything to us. We live off the land, so when you take us away, it won’t be the same. It’s like taking a fish out of water and seeing how long it will live.” (Eurasia Review)

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in his most recent column that additional stimulus spending would "risk national insolvency on the basis of a model." CEPR's Dean Baker demonstrates how very, very wrong he is.

OpenLeft's Chris Bowers has an extensive roundup of what we won, lost, and compromised in the financial reform bill. The passage of the bill looks likely as Scott Brown (R-MA) appears to have signed on. While a few IPSers were looking specifically at tax reform and CEO compensation, both of which received tepid reform measures, the bill does not close this case. As Bowers put it, "no one I know in the Wall Street reform community thinks this bill ends the overall fight."

Ethnic Wiretap Magazine takes a closer look at the Equal Justice Initiative's investigation of racial discrimination in jury selection.


Pass Christian's Last Crawfish Boil

July 6, 2010 ·

Hurricane season has officially begun again for the battered Gulf Coast communities. The first big tempest of the season, Hurricane Alex, caused coastal evacuations and sent clean-up boats and oil skimmers home to safe harbors this week. While Alex veered west of the oil-impacted shores, hitting Texas and northern Mexico, the storm will have an unforeseeable impact aggravating the oil spill clean-up. And Alex is just the first in a season predicted to contain an above average payload of mega-storms.

I talked with Gulf Coast residents who are fearful that the coming hurricanes might not so graciously avoid their shores. After surviving Katrina and coping with BP’s oil, there’s fear one more catastrophe could wipe out once and for all both the economic and cultural roots of these resilient Gulf Coast communities.

Crawfish boil in Mississippi.There was no sign of alarm or pessimism, however, among the Gulf Coast natives of Pass Christian, Mississippi last week. I joined them for what was to be their final traditional Southern crawfish boil for the foreseeable future. It was a spirited gathering, boasting 80 pounds of fresh seafood, young children beside their toothless elders, and lively local storytelling late into the night. Crawfish boils are a cultural spring tradition on these shores, and this one held special gravitas; the Mississippians and guests like myself were all gathered for a symbolic last hurrah before the impending oil inundation hits their shores.

“This will be our last crawfish boil for a while. We have no idea when we’ll get back out there on the water to get them fresh, if ever,” Biloxi resident Brian Southwick remarked.

While the mood remained festive and the crawfish delicious for over five hours of finger-licking revelry, an undercurrent of sour oil fumes tainted the air around the outdoor gathering, a lingering specter reminding all that this was to be the end of an era of abundant local seafood. Crawfish harvesting season lasts from December through July, but the fishermen here are ending their season early this June due to the encroaching oil. The oil is doing more than simply robbing these fishermen of revenue and a livelihood, the spill is robbing these Gulf Coast communities of age-old cultural traditions and the backbone of their civil society.

Michael Logan, a native of Biloxi, Mississippi and avid Gulf kayaker, predicts the oil spill will hurt fishermen the most, but added that “our whole livelihood here is based around our water.” Biloxi and the surrounding gulf coast region rely on the fishing and casino industries for the large majority of their employment and income. Biloxi in particular has a vibrant tourism industry with over a dozen casinos, the home site of Jefferson Davis, and long stretches of prime white sandy real estate.

“Would you want to come to a place with petroleum beaches? It’s going to kill all the tourism...our casinos will close down, it will be a ghost town situation, we’ll be done,” predicts Logan.

Biloxi beach before the oilTourism is already visibly declining. Biloxi’s long white sandy beaches lay vacant in the shadows of quiet casinos and docked boats. I spent an afternoon on one of these beaches, swimming in the Gulf’s waters the last day possible before they were proclaimed off limits the following day by local authorities. They were fearful of the chemicals being used as oil dispersants, another unknown variable in this catastrophe crippling the Gulf shore communities.

Mark Vanaman, a lifelong resident of the Mississippi coast and former oil rig employee, says he took a lower-paying construction job over his offshore employment after Katrina took his home and forced him to move inland. Vanaman reinforced the message of Biloxi’s empty beaches, saying, “Another storm could wipe us off the map, literally. After Katrina they said 75 percent of our population moved back, but this is turning into a nightmare. Pray for us.”

For an area all too familiar with nightmarish catastrophes, the predictions that the oil spill will be more damaging than Katrina are daunting. Biloxi was battered by Hurricane Katrina, losing 90 percent of its coastline structures, and as the six year anniversary of Katrina approaches this August, reconstruction and revitalization of the region’s economy are still incomplete.  The forecasts for a particularly active hurricane season have these residents worried that their entire communities could be forced to uproot and resettle on higher ground.

The silver lining to this apocalyptic prediction for the Gulf Coast: It could make a potent catalyst for a nationwide energy evolution. The answer to Logan’s prediction of Gulf Coast ghost towns and the prospect of Bryan Southwick’s next crawfish boil may just depend on whether the U.S. government and citizens get serious about shifting away from our destructive oil dependency. Until then, go enjoy some fresh seafood while you still can.

Hurricane Alex Hits Already-Troubled Waters

July 1, 2010 ·

sign on highwaySince the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf, many have anticipated the compounding effects that hurricane season would bring to the continuing BP oil spill. On Wednesday Alex, the first hurricane of the season, struck the Gulf. Though immediate attention must be given to combating the destruction in the Gulf, we should not overlook the BP spill as a catalyst for transitioning away from fossil fuels and a brutal indication to stop offshore drilling entirely.

Hurricane Alex has been pushing more oil onto shores that had been previously cleaned and forcing clean-up workers to dock skimmers and boats that otherwise would be helping with clean-up efforts. According to Associated Press, shores in Alabama were streaked with oil and dozens of vessels that had been helping transport workers and supplies were tied to docks. Yesterday morning, skimming efforts mostly stopped in the Gulf. Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has taken this opportunity to contradict himself, by criticizing the Obama administration’s lack of urgency in responding to the spill while maintaining opposition to the six-month offshore drilling moratorium.

A BP executive told Reuters that “[Hurricane Alex] is not expected to hurt oil capture systems at the BP oil spill or the company's plans to drill a pair of relief wells intended to plug the leak by August.” However, Kent Wells, BP’s executive vice president has said that the large waves caused by Alex “would delay this week’s plans to hook up a third system to capture much more oil.”

For some Louisiana residents working temporarily to clean up the oil spill, Hurricane Alex could actually more mean more work in the long run. Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans told NPR, “The more oil comes in, the longer we stay out here, the more work.” For now at least, most relief workers have not had much to do with strong winds coming in and waves disabling skimming efforts.

It is predicted that Hurricane Alex will bring heavy rain and potentially floods to Louisiana and Texas. By Thursday, winds should diminish but rain will likely continue in Texas and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Jindal has spoken out ruthlessly against Obama’s recent decision regarding offshore drilling: “Nobody in Louisiana wants to see another explosion, another loss of life…But at the same time, we don't want to devastate the same coastal communities that are struggling with this oil spill with this arbitrary six-month moratorium.” It is true that Louisiana’s coastal communities depend on jobs in the oil industry. However, considering BP’s previous offenses in Texas and Alaska and the recent Massey Energy explosion in the West Virginia Upper Big Branch mine, it is starting to look like no measure exists to prevent catastrophes when dealing with fossil fuel extraction, be it oil or coal. Would Jindal trust BP to operate safely in the Gulf Coast after this disaster? Would he rescind this “arbitrary” moratorium if he had the power?

In the wake of the BP disaster, public attention has turned to corporate accountability, to the cozy relationship between big business and government, between BP and the Minerals Management Service. And rightly so. We have focused on the Murkowski amendment, oil dispersants, BP’s containment efforts, and now the $20 bill escrow fund. However, in our rush to clean up and rethink the unchecked power of corporations, we must not lose sight of what the spill ultimately means for our energy future. A six-month moratorium, while “arbitrary” according to Jindal, is more of a provisional acknowledgement by the Obama administration of the dangers of offshore drilling. A deliberate, sustained transition to renewable energy is needed, and now is a better time than ever to stop offshore drilling permanently.

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