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Who's Next?

May 29, 2012 - The Memorial Day weekend was one for the record books.  Much of the interior U.S. sizzled.  Even worse, the heat was accompanied by unrelenting humidity.  Here in southwest Ohio, our temperatures were in the low 90's, with humidity hovering around 60 percent.  The weather was dangerous.

Republicans are known for being ferociously opposed to regulation.  They represent much of the western United States, where Americans are likeliest to take the attitude "no one can tell me what to do."  That's patently ridiculous, of course.  We all have bosses; even the CEO's of major corporations report to a board of directors.  There's a reason for that.  When people aren't held accountable, some among them ultimately engage in whatever sort of behavior will benefit them the most, even if rules forbid that behavior.  They collectively give each other permission to ignore the rules, little bit by little bit.  What one dares to do at the outset becomes what many will do eventually.  There is tacit agreement that no one will see what is truly happening as the situation devolves.

Not that moral degradation is the exclusive province of Americans.  There are a certain percentage of  people, everywhere, who are inclined to do what is best for them, regardless of the larger outcome.  It's sad but true: once we become accustomed to certain allowances being made, we take them for granted.  That's not just some, either - that's everybody.  All it takes is one person to bend the rules just a little bit to get the ball rolling.  At least that's what I think happened in Usinsk, Russia.  To my knowledge, Russia does not have an effective environmental protection bureau.  In fact, much of Russia is governed at a very low level of effectiveness.  Oil companies operate with impunity.

The outcome in such cases is predictable.  Back in the 1970's, oil was discovered in amongst the basin of rivers located near Usinsk, a region of northernmost Russia which serves as a gateway to the Arctic.  Residents, naturally enough, used these rivers as their primary source of water, and as a source of food.  Wildlife is invariably drawn to water, another benefit of being so close to these rivers.  You might have called it a frozen paradise.

You know what's coming, of course.  The infrastructure put in place by the oil companies seeking to cash in on Usinsk's oil has long since fallen into disrepair.  Oil leaks are now a normal part of life, along with the destruction that accompanies them.  River water is no longer fit to drink, and the frozen ground is impervious to anything besides the Big Rigs, meaning water wells are impossible to dig.  That means the people who call Usinsk home must drink river water.  Ingesting the poisons now found in the water has caused cancer rates to increase astronomically.  The fish are gone, and so is the wildlife.  Only the people remain.

Look at it this way: 500 million liters of oil wind up in Usinsk's rivers every year (a liter is slightly more than a quart).  That's roughly 125 million U.S. gallons, or 2 1/2 million barrels of oil.  Let's compare these numbers to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, when 780 million liters of oil contaminated the water in the Gulf.  That means that roughly every year-and-a-half, Usinsk endures an oil spill the size of the one in the Gulf of Mexico.  The difference?  No one does anything about it.  Nothing.  Imagine being forced to stand by while your home is laid waste by strangers.

Perhaps the Native Americans of Alberta know a thing or two about that.

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