On this day twenty-six years ago the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and dumped hundreds of thousands of oil into the sea. It was originally thought that the captain of the ship had been drunk, but he was later exonerated. The Nation’s point in its April 24, 1989, editorial, “S.O.S.” yet remains: the country remains tipsy on petroleum these days, with no serious plans of sobering up.
If we are to avert future Valdezes and other environmental catastrophes, the whole corporate system of extraction and consumption that has proved so profitable and disaster-prone must be challenged. One tiny step in that direction is the threat by angry state legislators to shut the Alaskan pipeline until the consortium of companies pumping the oil comes up with a better emergency plan to handle spills. Maybe, as the terrible costs of the Valdez accident become clearer in the next months, Alaskans will be moved to reconsider the Faustian bargain they made with the oil industry in 1973, in which they signed over the North Slope reserves in exchange for annual royalty checks. The rest of the country must stop depending on Devil Oil as well. We are a nation as drunk on black gold as the skipper of the Exxon Valdez was on alcohol. But instead of sobering up about our environmental and energy crises and taking command before the entire country hits a reef, our leaders are, like the captain, hiding out below deck.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.