A night to remember just how grim the oil industry really is
I’m writing this late at night on the West Coast. I’ve spent the evening at a rally in Sacramento, listening to residents from around the area tell about the effects of oil drilling on their lives: the asthma, the cancers, the spills. And now I’m watching with mounting horror the weather radar for the Bay of Bengal, as a massive cyclone bears down on the border between Burma and Bangladesh. It’s passing over remarkably warm water (indeed the world’s oceans, measured as a whole, have never been hotter), and seems to be building into a monster storm, one that will—by the time you get out of bed and read these words—be crashing into the world’s largest refugee camp, home to a million Rohingya Muslims chased from their homes by terror.
It’s called Cyclone Mocha, but it might as well be called Cyclone Exxon or Cyclone Chevron—they were among the companies that ignored the clear evidence of pending climate crisis and kept pushing their product till the Bay of Bengal was a hot tub. And it’s oil companies that are currently mounting a drive in California to overturn a law that would simply prevent them from drilling directly next to schools, hospitals, and homes. Rage is not an answer, but it is the thing that comes before an answer.
I know Bangladesh, this gorgeous coastline. I’ve spent time there, with some of the nicest people on earth. It’s a crowded nation, as densely populated as any spot on earth. But it’s a river delta, and so fertile that it feeds itself. People can deal with water—houses sometimes have canoes on the roof in case of flooding. But no one can deal with a storm like this. Bangladesh has worked hard to build an early warning system, so hopefully it won’t kill hundreds of thousands. But no warning system can prevent the overturned lives that will surely come tomorrow.
In truth, we can’t do anything at this point about this cyclone except offer those thoughts and prayers, and aid (Here’s a website for Islamic Relief). And we can’t do anything about the California kids already sick with asthma, except provide them with decent medical care.
But we can keep this from getting any worse. We live on a world where the oil companies could be made superfluous in a matter of years—on our planet, the cheapest way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun. And if we did we would prevent some increment of horror in the years to come.
It will only happen if we build mass movements, however, and it will not be easy. In California, after endless organizing, the legislature passed the bill mandating 3,200 foot setbacks for oil wells—but the law is now in limbo since the oil companies have spent $20 million collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn it. Big Oil Resistance is helping coordinate the fight to protect Californians, and everyone from Fridays for the Future (high schoolers) to Sunrise Movement (under-30s) to Third Act (over-60s) is fighting to protect the planet. Please, join in if you haven’t already. Please, push harder.