The Sacramento Bee reports that your favorite devil dog of the moment and mine, British Petroleum, “helped develop the state’s framework for teaching more than 6 million students about the environment.”
Sez the Bee:
Despite a mixed environmental record even before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, state officials included BP on the technical team for its soon-to-be-completed environmental education curriculum, which will be used in kindergarten through 12th-grade classes in more than 1,000 school districts statewide.
Environmental watchdogs and some experts who worked on the project said BP’s involvement is troubling given its handling of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy…which killed 11 workers and dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
“I’d hate to see how a section in future textbooks mentioning the BP oil spill will look,” said Lisa Graves, executive director for the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, a critic of so-called “greenwashing” techniques by corporations to make their products appear eco-friendly.
However, “Officials with the California Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the curriculum project, said BP had a minor role in its early planning stages and was just one of dozens of stakeholders from a diverse range of interests.”
Cal EPA also clarified that the work “was peer reviewed by outside experts.” BP declined comment.
The project has spent $10 million so far and is still looking for another $22 million over the next four years, with the first materials due to be available for school use in November or December (hopefully). Estimates of BP’s contribution are in the $6 million range. and specific content contributions from BP may have been minimal. The Bee says “The technical working group on which BP sat was responsible for developing the program’s guiding principles.”
Also involved in the project were PG&E, Sempra Energy, and The American Plastics Council, but no other oil company. In the wake of the Gulf disaster, BP has launched one of the most extreme and ridiculous greenwashing campaigns in history, made all the more ludicrous by the fact that it’s been entirely successful.
But well before the Gulf spill, BP had both a dicey environmental record and a history of greenwashing in California. The Bee says, “BP has handed out more than $8 million in teacher grants and scholarships for energy education and conservation since 2004. And in 2007, the company pledged $500 million over 10 years to develop the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley.”
The truth of the matter, and it’s a sad truth, is that BP’s involvement in the California environmental curriculum is neither as calamitous nor as unusual as environmental groups would have us believe — because it being atypical makes it more likely to get press. It is not in any way a new idea to have private industry fund social well-being, and it’s a completely sound strategy on many levels. Private industry has a social obligation to do so, in my view. But the problem is not that BP helped fund an educational curriculum. It’s that because private industry funds educational curricula, lawmakers have for many years with increasing vehemence come to feel they don’t have to.
The doctrine of mass privatization — not just of education but of everything tax dollars ever paid for — is a plague that will destroy our nation. It’s a Reaganesque concept at core, but had its most aggressive recent proponent in Dick Cheney. It means that many parts of the social infrastructure have been taken out of the hands of government and placed in corporate hands.
Government is not limited to what we see on TV — which is mostly lawmakers arguing and pundits screaming that lawmakers need to stop arguing and get their shit together. Government is principally a bureaucracy that provides social benefit to the citizenry. Wanna know who the government is? That clerk at the DMV. The garbage truck driver. Cops, judges, people who build sewers. The people who make sure the Capitol dome doesn’t fall in on the kids taking their a field trip, and the ones who spackle Highway 1 back on the mountainside after a rainstorm. And, importantly for this discussion, the government is the teacher in your public school. For that matter, the teacher in your private school, because even they rely to an extent on curricula that public funding developed or helped develop. Government, not private business, is the infrastructure that allows you to drive your Hummer or your Prius to Best Buy to buy a laptop to post crap to YouTube.
Therefore, what the reliance on privatized education funding represents is just part of the a wholesale privatization of government itself, promulgated not by neoconservatives but by neoliberals, which amounts to the same thing. Neither movement has any claim to either term anywhere other than Bizarroworld, as far as I’m concerned.
In the case of military contracting in the last 10 years, it’s a systematic approach to loot the government for private gain and to further an arch-conservative Christian agenda in preparation for the apocalypse. Oh, I’m sorry, did I sound a little paranoid there? Must be all the gun blogs I’m reading.
In the case of BP and education, on the other hand, the impact of privatized funding is far less clear. It’s troubling that BP helped develop California’s environmental education initiative.
But what’s far more disturbing is that they had the money to do so — and the government doesn’t.