Opinion: We use oil, so there are spills. Do we have the right to be outraged?

Cleanup workers in protective suits at  Huntington State Beach.
Cleanup workers in protective suits on Huntington State Beach on Monday.
(Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The former president is openly obstructing Congress yet still a free man. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

I open with something that appears to be a flagrant injustice to illustrate what’s become an obvious truth these last several years: Any inherently destructive force tolerated for too long will inflict increasingly grievous harm. This is, in a sense, a loose application of the engineering maxim known as Murphy’s Law — that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong — to politics, to society, to life. In government, the last president’s lawlessness was tolerated and even condoned for so long that we’re at the point now where he is plainly obstructing an investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection by telling his former subordinates to defy congressional subpoenas. The destructive forces known as Donald Trump and Trumpism continue to harm us, and no one is surprised.

So it goes with the oil industry, an insidiously malevolent force that has inflicted on us both climate change and climate-change denial. It was enraging but wholly unsurprising when, last week, a broken pipeline released tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Orange County, which The Times Editorial Board called the “latest casualty of the nation’s unhealthy dependence on oil.” In other words, this has happened before — many times, in fact — and it will continue to happen as long as offshore drilling is allowed. Environmental engineer Teresa Sabol Spezio, who has studied such oil disasters since Santa Barbara in 1969, wrote on our op-ed page about the similarities of how this spill is playing out compared to previous ones (spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well — because it doesn’t end). The biggest difference this time, Spezio said, is that the fossil fuel industry lacks the “absolute power” it had in past decades.


So yes, we have plenty of outrage (our letters to the editor are evidence of that), but only time will tell if our resolve matches that. We do, however, have yet more evidence that the oil industry will suffocate marine life and foul coastal wetlands for as long as we allow it to plunder the planet of its hydrocarbons.

The offshore platforms are there — the spills will be too.

The full impact of the California oil spill is yet unknown. Editorial board member Karin Klein, also a certified naturalist who has monitored wildlife restoration efforts in Orange County wetlands and coastal areas, raises several grim possibilities: “Could the oil spill undo all that effort to regrow the kelp beds? Are pelicans, after making a spectacular comeback in recent decades, going to dive into a sheen of oil to find fish? Will whales or dolphins be affected as they come up through a thin veil of oil to breathe?” L.A. Times

Cities don’t need to be dramatically denser — just a little more so. That’s what jumped out at me from a New York Times interview with California state Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who helped lead an overhaul of single-family zoning rules that is now law. I say that because one of the biggest worries about Senate Bills 9 and 10 was that the added density in already built-out cities — called infill development, as opposed to urban sprawl — might overburden the existing infrastructure. Wiener didn’t address that concern, because he wasn’t asked about it — in fact, the interview was decidedly non-adversarial. I favored SB 9 and 10, but this interview with Wiener struck me as overly deferential and nonspecific. New York Times

The pandemic is coming for our bacon — well, your bacon, because I gave up eating meat. The price of a pound of bacon is the highest its been in 40 years, and columnist LZ Granderson (who rightly takes a swipe at soy-based vegan “bacon,” which is as much a convincing substitute for the real thing as grape juice is for champagne) laments that yet another universally enjoyed indulgence is becoming out of reach for Americans on a tight budget. L.A. Times

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He says you should think of port pollution as violence. Jan Victor Andasan, a community organizer in Carson, grew up with his family living next to facilities attached to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which are together the biggest source of air pollution in Southern California. For our Hear Me Out video series, Andasan relates his experience as an immigrant in a port-adjacent neighborhood stricken by high rates of cancer and asthma, and says he dedicates his energy now to assuring that future generations don’t have to live thinking it’s normal to breathe toxic air. L.A. Times

We finally have a far-right Supreme Court. You should worry. UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky calls the new term, the first with this 6-3 Republican supermajority, “the culmination of five decades of efforts by conservatives to seize control of the court.” He continues: “It started when Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968 by campaigning against the liberal Warren Court and promising to fill the bench with strict constructionists. It continued with Ronald Reagan openly seeking to move the courts far to the right. And it concluded with Donald Trump picking three of the most conservative judges in the country for the Supreme Court.” L.A. Times

Jonah Goldberg is OK with raising taxes; it’s the unprecedented spending he doesn’t like. Our conservative weekly columnist accepts higher tax rates as appropriate responses to crucial federal spending on the pandemic, the 2008-09 financial collapse and other “black swan” events. But the push for record expenditures beyond that, and the seeming consensus that the debt doesn’t matter and should not constrain our budgets at all, proves that we are living in nonsensical times, Goldberg writes: “I’m willing to talk about limited tax hikes, but not while people are talking about unlimited spending.” L.A. Times


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