Opinion » Shredder

Death by cowardice


I live where you vacation. Wait—scratch that—I live where you used to vacation, before idyllic beaches became graveyards littered with dead seals with fractured eardrums. But before you pack up your belongings and return to Bakersfield in disgust, don’t worry. We did it on purpose. We knew exactly what we were doing.

Sort of.

Actually, the message from PG&E—the company cramming its seismic testing down SLO County’s throat more aggressively than Excelaron tried to push its oil wells on Huasna—is more like: We have no clue what’s going to happen when we shoot enormous blasts from airguns into the ocean and it might (code: probably most definitely will) disturb and possibly kill marine life, but that’s a risk we’re willing to take. It sure makes us sad though. Yup, so, so sad. Anyone else hungry? Surf and turf—heavy on the surf, while we’ve still got it?

All to answer the question: Is it safe to have a nuclear power plant on top of multiple earthquake fault lines? Which is a lot like paying millions of dollars to test whether it’s safe to send your toddler to school with a gun.

What PG&E isn’t acknowledging is that there are things that, once you do them, there’s no turning back. They become who you are. And slaughtering hundreds of seals and otters and God knows what else—in Peru, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins washed up dead following seismic testing—certainly qualifies as one of those things.

There are few things in this county that don’t annoy me, but about half of them are innocently paddling around out there looking for krill or shellfish or a little underwater nookie. (I can only assume the latter.)

If this happens, I hope PG&E thoroughly comprehends what will happen if and when marine life begins washing ashore maimed or dead. Maybe PG&E thinks it can somehow outrun photographs of dead seals washing up on Central Coast beaches spreading across Google faster than a photo of Snooki’s new baby clad in a leopard print onesie. And why shouldn’t they think that, after that sham of a “public comment period” during the latest California State Lands Commission hearing? Every. Single. Local. Speaker. Pleading. Against. Testing. And we all knew what the outcome was going to be well before we—the people who live here, the people who are going to have to live with the outcome—had our say.

In case you doubt my word on that score, consider one Pedro Reyes who, as the chief aid to the state director of finance, was forced to step in and vote when the State Director of Finance was absent. At the Aug. 14 meeting he announced that he was in possession of sufficient facts and ready to vote. At the second meeting, on Aug. 20, when people complained that the decision was already made, regardless of public opinion, he essentially said, “What are you talking about? My mind isn’t made up at all.”

And the state director of finance was not the only public official who abandoned her post with a key vote at hand. Studly lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom was apparently so overwhelmed by the decision that he left mid-meeting and didn’t bother to vote on the issue at all. Now, there’s something to be said for a politician who informs herself, makes a difficult call, and then accepts the public’s scrutiny for her decision. But there’s also something to be said for a politician who, when confronted with a tough decision, instead sneaks out the back door while the meeting is taking place, puts his cell phone on vibrate, and orders an organic cheese pizza. And that something is: coward. We all know PG&E helped fund your various campaigns, and it’s always hard to turn down a request from a person—or in this case company, but haven’t we decided they’re the same thing?—that gives you money. So you didn’t want to disappoint PG&E, but you also didn’t want your name attached to dead seals. Fair enough. Except that your financial obligations are limiting your ability to do your job. You’re responsible for a state that boasts 770 miles of coastline, and you have the privilege of making a decision about the well-being of a significant stretch of that coastline and you took a knee.

PG&E has made two grievous errors in its logic. First in thinking that it’s inviolate, that it can somehow escape the most likely outcome—lots and lots of dead marine life—unscathed. And second in thinking that our marine life is expendable, an accessory to this wonderful life in this wonderful place. And in order for either of these things to be true, we, the people, have to allow them to be. We have to be idle, apathetic, victims, cowards, poor stewards of the land and sea.

Even the Morro Bay City Council is feebly protesting this unwanted occupation, not so much because they’re worried about what it will do to marine life but, characteristically, because they resent the loss of revenue for the commercial fishing industry. But what else can you expect from a city that defended a two-bit aquarium with a long list of deceased seals by whining that they like the tourist dollars? The current council majority has proven themselves to be no friend to marine mammals in the past. Maybe that will change now that the best interest of marine life is coupled with money. Either way, it won’t be for the right reason.

So that leaves it to the rest of us. We landed a rover on Mars, for God’s sake. We dump billions of dollars into developing cutting edge technologies with which to kill brown people on the other side of the world, and we can’t be bothered to develop an alternative method of seismic testing that doesn’t involve blowing away the area’s marine life? Can’t we, just this once, apply that same ingenuity and tenacity to helping things live? Thrive, even?

Just once, let me believe we’re capable of more than destruction, that we’re willing to set aside our beloved paperwork and money and consider the value of the thing that drew us all here in the first place: the coast, nature, the seals squabbling over a sunny spot on the pier.

Shredder used to shred by the seashore. Bark back at shredder@newtimesslo.com.



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