The fossil fuel industry led budget crisis in Oklahoma represents a new low in the industry’s willingness to allow an entire state to become a sacrifice zone for fossil fuel interests. Typically sacrifice zones in Oklahoma and in the United States in general are limited to a poor neighborhood (my dad’s neighborhood in Ponca City contaminated by the local refinery), a rural town or area (the ghost town of Picher, OK contaminated by lead mines and Bokoshe, OK contaminated by coal ash), or ecosystems of various sizes (the Illinois river watershed contaminated by the poultry industry). But now with fossil fuel induced seismicity and a fossil fuel induced state funding meltdown, the entire state of Oklahoma is quickly becoming a sacrifice zone; and the poor, the mentally ill, and others who are the most vulnerable among us are literally experiencing their lives to be in danger.
How much are the Oklahoma fossil fuel companies willing to sacrifice the well being of people and the land for the sake of their profits? Apparently a lot! Our schools are on a slide to becoming the worst in the country, with 400 teachers a month leaving our state to make on average $20,000 more in other states. Schools in many Oklahoma districts are open only four days a week. Thousands of teaching positions across the state are unfilled. Class sizes are much too large for consistently effective learning to take place. Care for the mentally ill is being decimated with a recent announcement that all state funded outpatient services will be eliminated given current projected cuts. Monitoring of the environment is becoming more and more limited. With current practices and lack of funding, the sacrifice zone that is Oklahoma is destined to become even more uneducated, unsafe, polluted, unjust, addicted, violent, and deadly.
All the while our oil and gas companies enjoy the lowest gross production tax rates in the country, and their executives are not only unscathed, they are actually prospering at levels completely incommensurate with the prosperity of the state as a whole. In their Nichols Hills homes, their glistening high rise offices, and their restaurants in the sky looking down on their kingdom, the distance from the people below has apparently led them to simply not care about what their political and economic agendas are doing to the most vulnerable of our neighbors, much less our land and its future generations.
Leaders of Oklahoma’s fossil fuel industry have betrayed their fellow citizens, and we just keep voting their puppets into political power. At what point will enough Oklahomans see that if present practices persist any longer, Oklahoma’s human and ecological communities will increasingly become a sacrifice zone. Our neighbors in Kansas finally recognized how their scheme of more and more tax cuts was destroying their state’s services and infrastructure. How much longer do Oklahomans need?
When will a political revolution for a flourishing Oklahoma begin? For the sake of all the people of the state, we cannot afford to wait any longer. More and more of our state is being sacrificed by the day. Our brother Woody Guthrie reminds us all that “this land is our land,” and such an affirmation necessitates that we treat our land and the people within it with care, respect, compassion, and justice. We better begin acting right now like this land is our land, not only oil land, and the “our’ must include the most vulnerable among us. Otherwise, we will become more and more the land of the lost.