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Wonder why we can’t solve problems? Consider BP’s latest ad, what you heard and the word “risk”.

By Daniel Becker

An ad I’ve been seeing recently aired by BP is promoting how much work they are doing to clean up the oil spill. It is designed to leave you feeling comforted that they are on top of it, they are cleaning it up in a massive effort. Say, 29 million gallons of oil and water sucked up. Wow. 29 million gallons.

Ever think about how big that is? Every stop to get out the calculator and crunch a few simple numbers to see how big 29 million is? Did you ask: I wonder how much that is in relation to the guesstimated barrels of oil spilled? Do you even think you need to know? Did it occur to you that maybe, in order to make an informed voting decision, you should see just how big a mess the oil spill is by comparing it to the 29 million gallons BP is impressing people with? You know, figuring it out because there is the possibility that this oil spill thing really is more than you might think as it relates to catastrophes to tell your grand kids about.

No? Yes? Maybe? I don’t know?


June 10th estimates were 25K to 30K barrels per day. June 15th estimates were 35K to 60K barrels per day. Gallons per barrel: 42. 29 million / 42 = 690,476.19 barrels / 25K barrels = 27.62 days of spill.

690,476.19 / 35K = 19.73 days of spill. 690,476.19 / 60K = 11.5 days of spill.

Total number of days of spill: 94 (by my count, can’t get google to answer the question). 27.62 days is 29% of the spill days. 19.73 days is 21% of the spill days. 11.5 days is 12% of the spill days.

But, here’s the rub, not all of the 29 million gallons captured is oil. It is water and oil. Thus, the total amount of oil recovered as presented in number of days of spill is something less. Are you still impressed with BP’s results? Does this make you reconsider your estimate of the risk of oil drilling as it is currently performed?

At 35K barrels per day, there are 3,255,000 barrels of oil spilled. At 60k barrels there are 5,580,000 barrels of oil spilled. Roughly. That is 136,710,000 to 234,360,000 gallons of oil. At 29 million gallons of liquid sucked up, we are talking about 4.7 to 8.1 times the number of days it has taken BP to reach that 29 million mark. Assuming that all 29 million gallons was only oil. But, it was not.

Can you relate the need to do such a simple calculation to the concept of risk? “Yeah, there’s a risk” you may say in response. Are you thinking physical risk? How about the concept of risk as exemplified in the concepts of hedging, credit default swaps and derivatives? Or the economic profession’s use of the word risk? Because if you are only thinking about the physical risk, then BP succeeded in it’s messaging. They succeeded by diverting your mind away from their concern and thus their means, modeling and reference for interpreting life and thus formulating and implementing their intentions. This means the chances of you making the voting decision that best benefits you are slim. Why? Because you failed to walk in their shoes because you listened as if you were the only one in the conversation. Yes, the empathetic concept of walking in someone else shoes does not only serve your ability to help another and sooth your soul, it also protects you from one who would use you.

Still want to know why we can’t solve anything in this nation any more such that your life gets easier or do you get it as to your roll in this democracy now? Our roll is not to just take in the message and see if it fits our individual language of how life works. It is to also understand the messenger and their interpretation of how life works.  In BP’s case, life works based on economics.  Their reference for words comes from economics.  Their understanding of democracy is economic based.  Freedom/free market.  Liberty/more choices.  Fiduciary responsibility/make money.  Justice/market clearing price.  Free speech/advertizing.  One vote/one unit of currency.  Rights/market power.  Social conscience/consumer reseach.  

Want another example of where we have failed as citizens in a democracy? Lets consider the relationship of the fed’s recently reported medicare fraud case involving 94 people and $251 million in false billings (fact, really happened) and the message that private insurance will reduce our costs, that a private insurance system is the best way to go. Or, how about the economic message behind the “private insurance is best” message that the free market is always best. Go ahead. Meld those two thoughts. One that is real, $251 million in fraud found by your government and one that is what? I already have tried and thus wonder: How is it that the private market with all it’s cost controls and managed care systems did not catch $251 million dollars in false payout? You know, considering “market clearing price”, “rational consumer”, “perfect knowledge”, etc, etc, etc. Haven’t heard these terms? I assure you BP et al have ’cause it’s all economic democracy to them.

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