Monday, June 7, 2010

When the dead pelicans come home to roost

In a way, this Gulf of Mexico drilling disaster brought to us by BP is the best thing that could have happened to humanity, although as this link to the Washington Post makes obvious, it sure does suck to be an animal. It may wake us up.

Far too few pay attention to the slow degradation of the environment as we pave and crap up the landscape, or to the centuries-slow progress of our anthropogenic contributions to climate change. We pay attention to pies in the face, or to stories Rod Serling would write and this one is a doozey: we drill a hole in the earth, have the drill ship blow up, and a wounded Gaia bleeds out uncontrollably, poisoning the Gulf (and potentially, parts of the Atlantic Ocean) in one big science-fiction gulp as we watch in helpless awe. Rod could not have written a better story than this one regarding the politics of our oil addiction and we are still waiting for the last set of commercials (i.e., the yapping of politicians and other blame-mongers) to end so we can see how the episode itself ends.

Interior's Ken Salazar was recently reiterating that the government was going to "keep a boot on the neck" of BP until the Gulf well blowout was sealed shut.

But who is going to put the boot on the American public's neck? We usually don't see traffic congestion in Los Alamos, but its the rule in our nation's major population centers, as reported by the Texas Transportation Institute: In its annual report (see link) the TTI tells us that:

  • The overall cost of traffic congestion (based on wasted fuel and lost productivity) reached $87.2 billion in 2007 – more than $750 for every U.S. traveler.
  • The total amount of wasted fuel topped 2.8 billion gallons – three weeks' worth of gas for every traveler.
  • The amount of wasted time totaled 4.2 billion hours – nearly one full work week (or vacation week) for every traveler.
Without the voracious and often wasteful appetite we have for oil in our transportation sector there would be less reason to drill in deep water and certainly more reason to be prudent in how we do so.

The League of American Bicyclists held the 2010 Rally in Albuquerque this past weekend. Amidst the rides and beer, there was the more sombre moment of giving the eulogy for Gail Ryba, who was posthumously awarded the League’s Phyllis Harmon Award for Outstanding Volunteerism. I counted Gail as a good friend as well as fellow advocate, and giving that eulogy was especially hard. I nearly lost it a couple times, having to stop and steady myself in mid sentence. Amidst the tribute to Gail and to put her work in an immediate context, I spun some of the yarn about the faux Rod Serling episode you see above.

Gail’s work as the President of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico was but a small part of her full time paying job as a super-advocate and policy planner for sustainable living. A Ph.D. in Chemistry from Caltech and several years as a fuel cell researcher at Sandia National Lab turbocharged her thinking. She was also the Exec. Director for the NM Coalition for Clean and Affordable Energy and was a leader in the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club of New Mexico. Gail quit her paying job at Sandia about a decade ago so she could put all her considerable talents into making the world a better place.

Gail would probably tell us that there is nothing too surprising about this BP mess given our consumer-driven priorities; as long as mineral extraction is key to our energy-intensive economy, mistakes will be made. Of course, these "mistakes" will be discussed in the passive voice, too. Failure is an orphan. Especially so when profit is detached from cradle to grave costs, as it so often is in the energy sector as elsewhere.

In the final analysis, we might as well own up to our own role in the problem along with holding accountable the asshats at Buggered Petroleum. We want our gas and we want it cheap. Unless hit in the face with these disasters, we believe what is convenient to believe: that government should not regulate and that offshore drilling and other risks are worth taking. Well, the dead pelicans have come home to roost. Unlike theories about global warming, this disaster is hard to miss. Unless, of course, one is actively working to avoid seeing the problem. Here 'tis. And this was a month ago.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Well said, Khal. It's way past time we changed our ways! and by the way, one thing we can do is tell our retirement companies to move our money out of funds that invest heavily in big oil. At least that's what I did. Every little bit counts!