Corporate Sin: We Wanted BP to Cut Corners

Jack and BP

Every day we are bombarded with images of the horrific damage the BP oil spill is doing to the Gulf Coast region. When we see these pictures, we love to express our hatred of BP and demand that they pay for what they’ve done. We’re so mad that we get mad when the President doesn’t get mad enough. For the next decade or so, we’ll be demanding justice be served for BP’s sins.

And yet, I think our views about the oil and gas industry are not unlike what Jack Nicholson’s character expresses in the movie A Few Good Men. If only the government hearing on BP could have gone like this:

The CEO of BP should have just said:

You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall — you need me on that wall … I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said “thank you” and went on your way.

Corporate Sin

If we’ve ever complained about rising gas prices or the cost of air travel, we are participating in the world that drives companies like BP to cut costs. We want them to. We need them to. We don’t really want to know what BP is doing as long as it keeps our vehicles fueled and our computers powered. Not unlike Al Gore, who talks about the environment from the comfort of his personal jet, we love to talk about BP’s problems while consuming the product they provide at every opportunity.

In reality, more oil is spilled every year in Nigeria than what BP has spilled into the Gulf. We just don’t care because it doesn’t affect us. The BP oil spill, then, is not just about the individual sins of a single, evil corporation bent on squeezing every last dollar out of the earth’s core. It is also about the corporate sin of humanity bent toward selfishness at every turn.

Though BP as a corporation should certainly accept responsibility for what they’ve done, it seems to me that we – as humanity incorporate – also ought to acknowledge our participation in the system.

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary. I also write and speak on issues around technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

10 thoughts on “Corporate Sin: We Wanted BP to Cut Corners”

  1. We want BP to cut corners, but the irony is that it’s really, really expensive and risky to drill in mile deep oceans. It’s much more economical and environmentally friendly to do land-based drilling (because it’s, you know, NOT FLOATING).

    The idea that we can do without is a non-starter. There’s too many people on the planet, and we need the energy, food production, water treatment capacity and medical care that can only come from technological innovation.

    Otherwise people stay poor and starving.

    1. For an educated man it would seem to me that you should know not to speak for “everyone”. If people were foretold of the possible effects these short cuts could bring how many people do you honestly think would encourage them. Pictures of the oil soaked birds, dolphins, and the harm that would come to all wildlife, if shown before hand, would have people AGAINST the shortcuts. Please don’t speak for all of us.

  2. Hi. I live on the coast, in New Orleans, so this topic dear and unfortunately near to my heart. It’s a nice idea that this is all our fault by wanting gas prices to be cheaper, until you look at BP’s profit margins and yearly net income. Then you realize that they are both greedy and unexcused for cutting corners, because they could have both done things well and lowered costs for consumers by swimming in just a few less buckets of money. Franky I’d even be willing to pay more at the pump to keep our fisheries open, our wetlands alive and our coastal tourism intact. About all of the men in my family work in the gulf, in the petrochemical services industry. So I don’t want BP, Exxon and Shell to go away, but I want my father to be safe as he’s working near shoddily constructed wells. Too much to ask for the billions in profits Big Oil makes on our mineral rights? You may think so, but I sure don’t. Profits drove this disaster, not consumer complaints at the pump. Seriously, Big Oil has never cared about whether consumers are “satisfied” with the prices they pay for gas, that’s laughable. So, sir, speak for yourself in this matter, because I am not your “we.”

    1. Travis,
      As a former Mississippian, I am sorry for the damage done to your region. It’s incredible to think that what’s happening in the Gulf is but a fraction of the damage done by the oil industry worldwide (see the link about Nigeria above). It’s all the more disheartening that we only seem to notice when it happens in our backyard and affects us personally.

  3. John,

    I don’t think that your conclusion logically follows. Increased demand + a desire for lower costs may be a proximate cause of BP’s neglect, but it’s going beyond biblical logic and terminology, I’d argue, to identify that as a de facto “corporate sin” on behalf of all those who want a good at a better price. If I want a good at a cheaper price, no matter what, then I may have some degree of culpability. But if I want a good at a cheaper price, but not at the expense of other goods, then I don’t see logically or biblically how this is a “sin,” even a corporate one.

    At the end of the day, I think your argument leads inevitably to the conclusion that a desire for oil at a good price is itself a sin—since it seems that, on your premises, the sin would obtain whether or not the disaster did.

    Respectfully,

    JT

    1. Justin,
      Thanks for taking time to comment, my friend. I would basically agree with you, and I am admittedly both overstating the case and making a pun on the word “corporate.”

      That said, the problem I see with our basic position that “I want a good at a cheaper price, but not at the expense of other goods” is that we don’t generally back that up with concrete actions.

      In fact, my point is that it might not even be possible to act much differently in our current society. Almost everything we do is dependent on myriad interconnected technological resources, and who has the time to research where everything we consume comes from?

      It is this interconnectedness of a technological society which I think makes it harder for us to separate individual sins from corporate sins. In the Antebellum days, some Christians in the North wrote that even though they didn’t own slaves, they felt that slavery was a “national sin” in which they participated because they bought and sold goods made by slaves in the South. I think that we too should at some level acknowledge that we aren’t able to seal ourselves off from the culture in which we participate, and yet still take comfort in the fact that Christ died even for “unknown sins” (Leviticus 5:17-19).

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