Louisiana can once again sun itself in the intellectual power of its state’s representatives. In this case, it’s not the royally educated Sen. John Kennedy who consistently demonstrates to the American people how much he loves the word “suck,” but Rep. Clay Higgins generating grandiloquence on the sacred genesis of carpet.
During the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s hearing, “Fueling the Climate Crisis,” witnesses gave testimony concerning oil companies’ “record-breaking profits,” and “the adequacy of their climate pledges.” Also, some survivors of severe weather, induced by global warming, gave accounts of their experiences.
Roishetta Ozane, who lives in Higgins’ district, said, “What I didn’t lose in Laura, I lost in Delta.” Even though she and her children were destitute and often in tears, Ozane said, “I took to the streets to see who I could help.” She used her stimulus check to “put some people in a hotel to keep them from freezing to death.” From this experience she founded the mutual aid organization, The Vessel Project of Louisiana. She told the committee, “The oil and gas industries not only extract fossil fuels, they extract homes, lives, and our livelihoods.”
Dr. Isabella Weber, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, outlined the kingly amount of coin the oil companies have taxed out of us. Oil companies reaped “$84.5 billion in profits in the second quarter of 2022 alone,” which is a “net increase of $51.4 billion compared to the profits in the same quarter a year earlier,” which is an increase of “155 percent.” According to Weber, the oil companies constitute a “systemic inflation risk . . . which has materialized in the post-shutdown inflation.”
Raya Salter, an attorney and author who is the founder and Executive Director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, like the other witnesses, failed to mince a single word. Noting the dire state the world is in and the glacial progress the US has made, thanks to the oil industry’s immense political power and the its long campaign to persuade the public that global warming isn’t real, she gave no quarter to the culprit: “The climate crisis is an unprecedented global crime, and the smoking gun lies in the hands of big oil and gas. They have known, with precision for over 40 years, that they were doing no less than creating a mass extinction event,” and that “air pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide.” She continued, making the case that the “underlying causes of fossil fuel racism are systemic and include segregation, poor housing and practices like redlining,” and “can only be addressed by phasing out fossil fuels.”
After listening to Ozane’s heroic act of love in the face of immiseration; Weber’s economic evidence of oil companies bilking the public out of billions and instigating inflation; and Salter’s unflinching summation of the death oil causes, Rep. Higgins, a man who believes his wife “has the gift of premonition,” said, “I’m not quite sure some of you are connected to reality.”
Higgins, the arbiter of reality, fixed his considerable head on Ms. Salter. He began his question with “If you had control of the world, ma’am…”
Higgins clustered some phrases together, grasping for the thought that fossil fuels are at the center of the world economy, and that fossil fuels are “the single most significant factor that connects the prosperity of our citizenry, worldwide.”
After much labor, Rep. Clay Higgins finally musters a question:
“Everything you have – your clothes, your glasses, your car you got here on, your phone, the table you’re sitting at, the chair, the carpet under your feet – everything you’ve got is petrochemical products,” Higgins said. “What would you do with that? Tell the world.”
Salter’s testimony showed how oil sacrifices people for its bottom line; and Higgins’ question assumed that human sacrifice is the natural byproduct of saranwrap. He glosses over the question of how much misery and death are acceptable for the products oil furnishes.
Last April, Olin’s Blue Cube petrochemical plant fogged the City of Plaquemine with chlorine gas. Chlorine gas is more lethal than mustard gas. Thirty-nine people were hospitalized. It turns out Olin employees underreported the severity of the breach. As a result, The Advocate reported, the “shelter-in-place order for local residents was lifted after just three hours when it should have lasted about a day and a half.” On top of that, our most prominent newspaper erroneously referred to the plume as a “leak.”
When Covid was burning, government bowed to “economic necessity” and allowed businesses to slap workers on the back and call them “essential,” shoving them into the affliction, which killed a multitude. But workers did get a bonus: corporate media called them “heroes” then wondered why “nobody wanted to work anymore.” The American social contract harbors an unspoken tenet that’s enacted in policy. It’s clearly expressed by Adam Smith. People are a fungible token spent to fulfill that “vile maxim of the masters of mankind: ‘All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.’”
Salter is right in her criticisms, but Higgins better reflects the moral fiber stitched in our economy.
When Salter’s answers grew sharp, Higgins repeatedly talked over her claiming “I’m trying to give you the floor, boo.” In this context, “boo” was not an endearment. Then Higgins went biblical: “The Lord gave us dominion over the planet and the creatures thereof.” Now the original translations of “dominion” means to care for and to nurturer, so from a biblical perspective, I am an environmentalist.” Smearing the distinction between a steward and a destroyer is worth noting.
The Good Shepherd warned that those who make a show of their faith, who adore glad-handing the powerful, and who “devour widows’ houses” will earn a “greater damnation.” So, the Lord may not be too pleased with being wielded like a puppet to mouth a defense for sucking the life out of creation.
It’s a wonder how God, who is so allergic to the enchantment of Mammon, draws so many followers who are in love with money. It just goes to show you how religion also bends to the demands of “economic necessity.”
The Roman Poet, Horace, said, “It’s sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.” Mustard gas taught Wilfred Owen, a British poet, soldier and casualty of World War I to call that “The old Lie.” There are many reasons to die. There’s no greater love than to lay yourself down for your friends, to paraphrase the carpenter’s son. If courage can hold, maybe a more palatable end. But there can’t be a meaner death than giving up the ghost for phones, or chairs, or carpet, and there can’t be a smaller neighbor who pretends it’s good.
Leo Lindner taught English composition for three years at Nicholls State University until the extravagant riches lavished upon him by the University of Louisiana System weighed on his conscious so heavily it encouraged him to take a position as a “mud engineer” in the oilfield. He worked on the Deepwater Horizon for 5 years with some of the finest people he will ever know. He is now retired and lives with his excellent wife, Sue.