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Cool Globes and a Hot Topic

By Tim State in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 28, 2007 8:23PM

07-2007_Cool_Globes.jpgIf you’ve played along Chicago’s lakefront this summer, then you may have noticed the 124 sculpted, painted globes designed by artists with the intent to inspire and empower the public to take action against global warming. Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet dots the lakefront north of the Field Museum and at Navy Pier.

“Cool Globes presents a vast array of solutions with a clear message: We can solve the problem,” the exhibit’s Guidebook reads. “We can stop global warming if we inspire government, corporate, and community leaders to lead the way. But the best way to do this is to engage the public at large to motivate our leaders and to embrace the solutions ourselves.”

Maybe the globes have done that, because the hottest story of summer that has people shrieking foul appears to be the announced expansion of BP’s Northwest Indiana’s Whiting Refinery.

Maybe BP missed the point of the globe they sponsored -- Globe 111, near Navy Pier, on the path just west of N. Streeter Drive, by artist Sandra Bacon, titled, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” The guide says that her creation, “conveys collectively our carbon footprints have damaged natural habitat... This meticulous globe emphasizes how every living creature depends on the natural balance of the Earth’s habits.”

For the second day in a row, the Tribune’s lead story was BP’s story. Yesterday, the Tribune pointed out an exemption in BP’s new state water permit that “gives the company until 2012 to meet strict federal limits on mercury discharges.” The article indicates BP puts 2 pounds of mercury into the lake every year. But “under standards adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995, BP’s annual discharge of the metal should be reduced to 8/100th of a pound.”

Of course, BP’s propaganda Web site related to the Whiting refinery, linked through banner ads found right here on Chicagoist, as well as the New York Times, mentions little of mercury. Their dowloadable PDF fact sheet, “BP - A Responsible Environmental Partner,” states, “We are proud of the accomplishments we’ve made in reducing the impact of our activities on the environment...” Although it appears their interpretation of environmental impact is limited to greenhouse gases, as there is no mention of waste water or landfills.

Addressing the issue of mercury specifically, BP’s says, “There are technical, engineering and environmental challenges. We have more than 750 engineers working on the project, including a group focusing on air and water issues. Our commitment is to use best available control technology to make the environmental impacts as small as possible while providing the additional gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that the Midwest U.S. needs.”

The tone of BP’s propaganda is balance. Sure there is a slight impact on the environment -- but all within regulations (although that appears to be open to interpretation) -- but think of the jobs created. The BP’s site indicates they will invest $700 million to upgrade refineries in California, Ohio, Texas, and Washington, as well as Indiana. But BP can’t find a way to meet Federal regulations, needing an exemption and a five-year extension? Sure it will bring jobs, but how many more jobs would be produced by funding a solution?

As if BP’s sponsorship of Cool Globes isn’t ironically juicy enough, BP was founded as Stanard Oil Company by John D. Rockefeller, who could be considered the father of philanthropy. Rockefeller believed firmly it was his lot in life to make as much money as possible, and use it wisely to improve humankind. Maybe the corporate execs at BP should sit along the lake, gaze at their Cool Globe, and ponder if they’re acting in the best interest of humankind, or the best interest of their shareholders.