Image courtesy of the BP website
My Dear Fellow,
It was with great joy that I received your letter on the fifteenth day of June in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten.
As one of my earliest tutors in the University of Life, I eagerly look for and willingly accept all opportunities to receive your auspices and glean from your wisdom on all matters. I was therefore pleased to see that my public spouts on issues pertaining to quasi political and environmental issues occurring on the world stage have caught your attention.
In reading your remarks I could not help but notice that there was some err in the delivery of what prima facie appeared to be a sound argument. Peradventure this correspondence may enlighten you and perhaps today (on this occasion) the student becomes the teacher.
I quote the statement that has aroused such interest and caused you to seek to instruct me in this matter as follows;
“Can one really compare the BP oil spill to the September 11th TERRORIST attack?????? Well Obama did!!!!!! Come on!!!!!! Talk about deflecting your failures to bring the "Change" you promised in your election campaign by saying that "British Petroleum" have caused what can be compared to a full on terrorist attack!!!! Someone sack him!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The above statement was inspired by the new reporting of the day that quotes President Obama as saying that, “BP oil spill impact 'echoes' 9/11” in relation to its impact on the people of America.
There are three points that I would like to bring to your attention as I address your remarks as follows;
1. What is a terrorist?
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion;
Terror can be defined as; A state of intense fear; One that inspires fear; A frightening aspect;
Terrorism can therefore be defined as ‘violent or destructive acts (such as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands’.
As it is clear from the definitions above, terrorism is a deliberate act, with a specific purpose to cause / inspire fear and terror in the hearts of its victims. I believe it is fair to say that an Environmental disaster (an accident no less) albeit, from carelessness of failings on any one party, cannot be compared, discussed or even contemplated in the same arena as an act of terrorism.
2. What was the impact did 9 11 actually have on the people of America?
On September 11th 2001, a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre left the following ‘IMPACT’ on the minds and in the hearts of the people of America;
· 2,819 people were murdered by those terrorists. Of these;
o 23 were New York police department officers attending the scene
o 343 firefighters trying to put the fires that ensued out and the fires burned for 99 days after the attack before they were successfully put out
o 115 countries lost their national in this disaster and;
o 22 US soldiers died in Operation Enduring Freedom
· 36 000 Units of blood were donated to the New York Blood Centre
· 1 609 people lost a spouse in the attack, most of them the bread winners of the family
· 20% of Americans knew someone personally who was in one way or another directly or indirectly were affected, hurt or killed in these attacks.
· 422 000 New Yorkers suffered from post traumatic stress and;
· 1.4 million Americans changed their air tickets to train tickets in the period that followed.
America was on its knees with a wide spread of panic and fear gripped the nation, gun sales and racist attacks on Muslims grew daily and there was a sense that no one was safe from there on in. The impact of that day still resonates on many Americans today. Not one citizen of the country was left unscathed but this outrageously audacious act of terrorism.
3. The financial element
I appreciate that your remarks were focused on and addressed a financial comparison to the disaster so I will address that now. Yes as you quite rightly state, BP did announce pure profits of $25 billion dollars in 2008 and yes they announced $14 billion dollars in 2009 and therefore I appreciate that one would hope they would invest some of this in their health and safety strategies. Being a Health and Safety Law professional I am acutely aware of their track record and failures when it comes to Safety and the Environment and this letter in no way excuses BP’s actions and inactions in this matter.
It is fair to say that BP has made a fortune from oil due to the world’s addiction and constant increasing demands for this fuel. BP can be rightly accused of being a big capitalist corporation that is in the business of making profit and will turn a blind eye to safety breaches to achieve its ultimate goal. Is this wrong? Of course it is wrong but that is not the question. The real question is; were BP’s activities such that, its failing would give rise to the feeling of fear devoid of safety and complete panic that a terrorist attack would give rise to in the America population?
Consider the financial comparison between the two events as a final indicator of how they and their effects are polar opposites and not, as President Obama would like us to believe them to be on par.
The Financial Implications of the 9 11 terrorist attack In 2001 post the bombing of the World Trade Centre cost New York business and International companies based there the following;
· 146 100 jobs were lost post 9 11
· An economic loss of $105 billion dollars occurred in October 2001 alone as a direct result of this event
· Clean up costs were set to be in the region of $600 million
· $ 970 million was spent by the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)
· $40.2 billion dollars of insurance pay outs resulted
The current estimates for the cleanup and loss as a result of the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill is as follows;
· Estimated total costs of containment and clean-up to be approximately $3-6 billion of which BP has already parted with $ 1.43 billion so far and they have assumed responsibility as one would expect.
· BP has also committed to paying damages to those affected by the spill, which is currently estimated, will amount to an additional $14 billion ( The financial loss, according to the interviews aired on all news channels so far is the main concern for local businesses.)
In summation; this letter, does not seek to address BP’s guilt or in any way absolve it from said guilt; but to show how President Obama’s statement of comparison of BP’s actions to that of the aftermath of one of the world’s worst and certainly America’s worst terrorist attack was fallacious at best. It is no more permissible to compare BP’s failures to the 9 11 attack as it would be for one to compare the actions of bankers that lead to the World Economic Crisis followed by recessions across the globe as outright acts of terrorism, though the latter has caused more loss financially, emotionally and indeed in terms of loss of life globally, than BP could ever aspire to in any magnitude from an oil spill.
Erroneous proclamations of this nature are dangerous and indeed inflammatory and defaming in the worst possible way. Far worse than that; they are careless and completely disregarding of the countless American and other lives lost, effected and affected by the country’s worst terrorist attack in history. An attack which is far from laid to rest in the past but is still very much relevant in the American psyche today.
Your learned friend,
Rudo Nyangulu LLB (Hons), NEBOSH Grd, IOSH Mb