In the technological age, the scariest monsters are of our own creation. Back in the 1950s, we were tinkering with powers we barely understood as we tested atomic bombs out in the Paciic Ocean. In the imaginations of a team of Japanese ilmmakers — men who knew the power of the atom all too well — that folly created Gojira, a giant lizard that rose from the sea to wreak havoc.
Somehow humans were able to defeat the monster we know as Godzilla in 96 minutes of screen time, but our own undersea beast is going to take a lot longer than that to conquer. And this time, the devastation is all too real.
As one of Godzilla’s creators, Tomoyuki Tanaka, put it, “As long as the arrogance of mankind exists, Godzilla will survive.”
But the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is beyond arrogance. It’s an even more explosive brew that assumes greed is good while humility in the face of nature is for suckers.
We ignore common sense as we test the depths of Mother Nature’s mysteries. Most of us know these things should be done with the worst-case scenario always in mind, but British Petroleum never thought there’d be a problem drilling a mile underwater. Smack in the middle of a rich fishery. Surrounded by miles of sensitive coastline. In Canada, oil companies are required to drill the kinds of relief wells BP is now scrambling to add. We know how to do it carefully, we just don’t. It doesn’t pay to be careful.
Consider the Exxon Valdez. In 1989, the single-hulled Valdez spilled oil all over the Alaskan coastline; a jury judged that Exxon owed us $5 billion; appeals got that figure down to $500 million. Jump ahead two decades, and ExxonMobil’s proit for a recent five-year period (2005-09) was nearly $181 billion. The Valdez penalty was 3/10 of 1 percent of that. It’s like a gnat on their windshield. ExxonMobil remains the biggest user of single-hulled vessels in the world, even though the U.S. will require double-hulled tankers in all American waters — starting in 2015.
So in the wake of this spill, the question is not how to make BP pay, or which new regulations to enact 25 years from now. The question is, can we outlaw arrogance, curb greed and restore some sense of humility?
If not, to paraphrase Tanaka, as long as the greed of mankind exists, we will continue to see our own worst nightmares come to life.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.