Thursday, May 23, 2013

That Damnable Revolving Door

So Gasland II premiered in Colorado Springs tonight, with an appearance by director Josh Fox, and sure, there were plenty of updates about the people of Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY and many other places that were just as grim.  It is obvious the U.S. is declaring shale areas to be "National Sacrifice Zones" in which it is deemed cheaper to buy out the homes of all who live near fracking sites, making them sign nondisclosure agreements in the process, than to adopt regulations to insure that fracking is either conducted safely, or not at all.

What is more disturbing are the number of ethical sacrifices people are willing to make on a regular basis.  We see this most explicitly when energy companies and developers of LNG port sites talk in public about how wonderful it will be when the North Pole ice cap melts, so energy barges can travel unhindered among northern ports in Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia.  We see it when energy companies hire Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who worked for PSYOPS and military intelligence divisions, who reorganize PR departments so they are managed like a counterinsurgency campaign against the "terrorists" who would oppose fracking.  This kind of activity makes me lean to generalizations to insist that anyone who works for the extractive energy business is morally suspect.

And then we have the problem of the revolving doors.  Leading Pennsylvania and New York state government officials, as well as federal government officials, quit their posts to work for the companies they regulate.  Of course, you say.  That's as prevalent in the military industrial and resource management sector as it is in energy.  That still does not make it right.

Yes, yes, all business is prostitution to a certain extent, and one can't fault everyone who leaves a nonprofit or government post to go into for-profit industry.  But any move to greater prostitution along the "misrepresenting for profit" line should be taken with due consideration for what kind of ethical lapses might be made.  I've seen many in my field of journalism go into corporate PR as traditional journalism disappears.  Obviously, working for Cisco or Dell can't be seen as being as damaging as working for Lockheed-Martin or Halliburton, but one would hope that people draw firm lines in the sand as they start sliding down the slippery slope of moral rationalization.

One thing that Fox showed in his sequel to Gasland is that few in the Obama administration, including the president himself, have made admirable ethical choices.  Those mid-level EPA officials, as well as former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, finally had to leave the agency when the desire to cover up blatant fact on fracking-fluid contamination got in the way of good science.  And we won't even get into the cesspool that is Congress.  I left the movie feeling that there really is no one, at local, state, or federal level, that can stay in government without compromising basic values.  And so many of them choose the revolving door.  Where are the people who will stand up and say, "I will state facts based on the research conducted, make regulatory decisions as they need to be made, quit my job if money gets in the way of my ethics, and refuse to join the companies I formerly regulated."  The ranks of such people are dwindling by the day.  And what we are left with is independent people working in retail, the arts, non-profits, etc. who look at government and transnational corporations and say "I want nothing to do with any of you."
Wes Wilson (formerly of EPA) and Josh Fox

That's the kind of line I'll draw.  I simply won't have any track with people who will sacrifice their morals for the sake of making what they call a living wage.  The revolving door is a death wage.