Monday, June 28, 2010

The Art Of Drowning: Musicians Take Action Against The Gulf Oil Spil

When faced with an environmental disaster on the scale of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the average person can often feel hopeless. Tens of millions of gallons of oil have already leaked into the Gulf Coast since the British Petroleum (BP) oil rig explosion in April, and as the effort to contain the spill continues to falter, it's getting worse every day. Signing up for Facebook groups speaking out against BP might satisfy one's sense of outrage momentarily, but it's easy to wonder if that sort of online protest ever has any real world impact.
That's why a group of high-profile musicians led by KORN are trying to do right with a proposed boycott of BP for their summer tours, pledging not to fuel up at gas stations with the BP logo. Joining them are RISE AGAINST, FLOGGING MOLLY, DISTURBED, SLIGHTLY STOOPID, ROB ZOMBIE, MEGADETH, ANTHRAX and FILTER to name but a few. "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to the environment in U.S. history,” said Korn frontman JONATHAN DAVIS in a press release recently unveiled. ”From everything we're hearing about now, it's become clear that BP cut corners to put profit ahead of safety. The message we are sending should tell all the oil companies to spend the money and take the necessary precautions to make sure this doesn't happen again. I'm really proud that this many artists have already come on board, and I hope more will join soon." THE ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK MAYHEM FESTIVAL is one of a few tours pledging to boycott BP as well. The tour’s creator KEVIN LYMAN (also head of the VANS WARPED TOUR) has long advocated for the use of bio-fuels. Lyman said in a statement, "We have so many friends that are now affected by this spill that unless BP spends whatever is needed their livelihoods are lost forever. To that end we are encouraging everyone we deal with to find alternative ways to get down the road this summer."
In an exclusive interview with, Davis explained his motivation to boycott BP. “We were thinking, ‘What can we do to prevent it from happening again?’ The best option for us was boycotting any kind of BP products, and getting all our friends in bands and their fans to not buy their products to send a message to the company.” Like many critics of the spill, Davis says that the British company cut a lot of corners in regards to safety. “If they spent a few million more bucks and two days’ more work, this wouldn't have happened. Doing something so simple as not going to the gas station and filling up will send a message that [BP] will have to pay the money [to fix the problem]. This is complete, utter bullshit. It's horrible what's happening to those people in the Gulf and to the Gulf itself. I've never seen anything like it in my life. I have no interest in politics, but this is something that has moved me, seeing the destruction and those poor people down there.”
MATT McCLAIN of THE SURFRIDER FOUNDATION, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s beaches and bodies of water, says the outlook for the health of the Gulf Coast ecosystem is grim, and only getting bleaker every day. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska was widely considered to have been the greatest environmental disaster in history. A counter on the Surfrider website keeping track of the oil spilling into the Gulf, is at more than 72 million gallons—the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill every 12 days. Clean-up efforts have been stymied, and as oil continues to erupt into the Gulf, the prospect of containing the mess seems unlikely. “There's not a whole lot we can do for the Gulf,” says McClain. “We can do our best to rescue some of the animals that are being impacted. But the problem is only going to get worse. We've seen tens of thousands of animals impacted and we'll see scores more. But the more serious concern is what effect this incident is going to have on the long-term life of the Gulf. This is an area that was already seeing multiple dead zones from all the nitrogen run-off from agriculture coming down the farm belt from the Mississippi River. We're also dealing with an area already losing wetlands at a rate of a football field every 15 minutes. Now you throw in all the wetlands being killed by oil and the dissolved methane at the ocean floor turning entire sections of the ocean hypoxic. I don't think anyone, including the best scientists, have a clear picture of what the long-term effects will be, but I think we all agree it will be profound.”
RISE AGAINST vocalist TIM McILRATH, who has also been very vocal in his anger over the incident, actually visited wetlands in the Gulf area just before the spill. “A few weeks before the oil disaster, coincidentally enough, I found myself in New Orleans for a three-day political retreat with a handful of other musicians,” he says. “Even though Rise Against have played New Orleans a couple times, I felt like that weekend was my first introduction to this amazing city. Our hosts took us to the wetlands to show us how beautiful they are and also to explain the important purpose they serve in protecting Louisiana from storms and providing a home for an abundance of wildlife. I met a man named Aaron from the Gulf Restoration Network, and he was very concerned with the state of the Louisiana's wetlands. This was all before the spill. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire, and all of Aaron's worst nightmares were coming true. [Saying I’m] outraged is an understatement.”
BROCK LINDOW of Alaskan metal band 36 CRAZYFISTS has witnessed the devastating effects an incident like this can have on a community in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. “I sympathize with the people [of the Gulf] and I’m shocked that BP didn’t have a better contingency plan. BP also has a poor record here in Alaska with the corrosion issue on our pipeline.” RYAN MORAN of California reggae-punk outfit SLIGHTLY STOOPID says that being in a touring band allows musicians to more easily sympathize to the effects of the spill than maybe someone in the Midwest does. “What makes it unique for us, we're in bands that travel to all those places,” he says. “We've been to Biloxi [and] New Orleans tons of times, Tampa and all those places that are on the Gulf Coast. All the surroundings states— Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida—they're all getting fucked. I think it's our responsibility to spread the word that what's going on there is bullshit.”
FLOGGING MOLLY drummer GEORGE SCHWINDT echoes that sentiment, saying, “[No matter the odds,] It’s still important to take some sort of action. The greater outcome is this disaster is the first step in reducing our addiction to crude, which can only happen if there are some serious financial consequences to the offending company and a serious financial upside to alternative forms of energy. The lesser outcome may be that we’re just irritating, little gnats singing in BP’s ear. Ultimately, the boycott may be an exercise in futility but we remain in the possibility of change for the better.”
Even if it can seem fruitless in the face of such a giant company, Rise Against’s McIlrath says protest is still vital. “Any expression of anger at least lets people know that something is wrong. But don't let that anger stay contained in the virtual world. Bring it into the real world. Instead of bouncing messages around your social networks, write a letter to your local politician and let them know where their constituents stand. It sends a message loud and clear that consumers will not tolerate the kind of reckless irresponsibility and lack of respect BP has shown for, among many things, the myriad ways of life in the Gulf of Mexico. If it makes even one company re-think its safety measures, or maybe offshore drilling as a whole, your voice is worth it. Until corporations grow a conscience, the only place to hit them is their wallet; their bottom line.”

Critics of the boycott point out that the gas stations under the BP logo aren't even owned by the British company anymore, and that efforts like this won’t have the desired outcome. “So Korn say they're not gonna use BP,” says RICK ARMELLINO of THIS OR THE APOCALYPSE. “BP is not going to be affected. I have this image of BP's public relations people reading that rock bands aren't going to use BP and they just tilt their heads back and start laughing. There are millions of vehicles fueling up in our country and what it comes down to is, ‘What's the first gas station off the highway exit?’ Our country is not known for making adjustments that are inconvenient.” Another criticism of a BP boycott is that it will only hurt the local branch owners and their employees. Armellino, for one, is reluctant to lash out at BP stations. “You could tell kids to start putting bricks through BP station windows, but at the bottom of the food chain, you've got people working there for minimum wage who are gonna have to clean up the gas and go home and try to find a way to feed their kids.”
But Rise Against’s McIlrath says that a boycott is one of the only outlets for change. “If a filling station is flying the colors of the BP logo, then they are on some level relying on that logo to attract customers,” he says. “American consumers need to reverse that trend and send a message to the market that we will rejectanything flying those colors.” TANNIS KRISTJANSON of MISS TK AND THE REVENGE—who recently released The Ocean Likes To Party Too with proceeds going to the Surfrider Foundation—agrees. “Unfortunately, [a boycott] would be putting pressure on the smaller people, but its all about sending a message to the higher-ups,” she says. “Yes, I am outraged, disgusted and broken-hearted over the spill and the lies and the greed. Why aren't people in jail? That's what I'd like to know.”
The Surfrider Foundation, like many other environmental groups, has been opposed to deep water drilling for years. Congress has had a legislative ban on offshore drilling for nearly 30 years in response to an oil rig spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, enacted by then-President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom have deep ties to the oil industry, played a big role in deregulating energy companies and opened up the prospect of offshore drilling like we're seeing in the Gulf now. In 2008, President Bush rallied to lift the ban on offshore drilling (originally put into effect by his father in 1990), causing environmental organizations to step up their game. If anything positive comes out of this tragedy, McClain thinks it may serve as a wakeup call to people eager to pursue oil exploration. “We think we do have a good opportunity to gain support for a national moratorium again.”
SHAWN KILMURRAYof environmental advocacy group ROCK THE EARTH says BP isn't the only villain here. The company simply rents the platform that was built and owned by Transocean, a Swiss company with an American office in Texas. “[Transocean]owns the platform and the well and the drilling apparatus that blew, that was maintained and owned by Halliburton. So we need to go back and look at all the stuff with Halliburton during the last administration. So much of the stuff that is impacting us now—from natural gas fracturing, to deep-water drilling—comes from changing laws under the Energy Bill of 2005. Deep-water drilling was illegal until five years ago. There's a reason why.”
McIlrath says that the entire incident is symptomatic of a larger problem. “Boycotting BP will not end our dependency on oil, or change the fact that our infrastructure is set up so that we all use oil in some capacity of our daily lives. Is boycotting BP the answer to our nation’s dependency on oil? No. This disaster signals that America is overdue for radical changes in our infrastructure, not just a boycott.” Some would argue that avoiding BP stations doesn’t actually hit the corporation as hard as it will the local branch owners who operate BP stations. But McIlrath thinks that it’s time everyone involved with the oil industry start rethinking their practices. “Are the gas stations you visit instead of BP [owned and operated by] perfect angels? No, but they are scared shitless that you might boycott them too. If that's what it takes to get them to clean up their act, so be it. The worst thing that we can do is stand by and do nothing.”


GUSTER frontman ADAM GARDNER is founder of REVERB, a group that works with musicians and music fans to educate and advocate for safer environmental practices. He has a few suggestions for how you can get involved in the recovery from the Gulf oil spill and lessen our nation’s dependency on petroleum:
  • Carpool
  • Ride your bike
  • Get a reusable water bottle
  • Get your hands dirty and volunteer in the Gulf
  • Donate to the clean up.
  • Tell President Obama not to expand offshore drilling

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