There will be blood

The tragic oil well blowout and subsequent ongoing spill off the Louisiana coast has me depressed and angry. But not at BP, no. And I’m not going to take up the banner to ban offshore oil and gas exploration either. I see this disaster as a natural consequence of my own behavior, and that of all my friends, neighbors and coworkers, a consequence that isn’t going to be well-managed with short-term reactionary policy.

Here’s some perspective. My first job after college – circa mid 1980s – involved environmental review of oil developments offshore Santa Barbara, CA. Fifteen years earlier, an offshore well just off the SB coast blew out during drilling, much like what’s just happened in the Gulf. Though the environmental effects of the large nearshore spill were enormous, by the time I arrived, its impact on Santa Barbara’s collective psyche was the most prominent remnant. Vehement anti-oil advocates had become part of the city’s identity. What rankles me today is that these advocates weren’t protesting the need for oil. They were protesting the need to get the oil so close to Santa Barbara, a community which prides itself in its beauty and its tourists, and whose ecosystems are special and sensitive.

OK. Can anyone point me to an ecosystem that isn’t special or sensitive; an economy that will tolerate an industrial accident unscathed; or a life that’s worth sacrificing in the pursuit of fuel resources or their economic protection?

We are an industrial society, with industrial-sized needs for fuel. Every kind of fuel necessitates a cascade of industrial-sized production, distribution and use tradeoffs that impact us (as people) and affect parts of our planet unequally. We are going to have horrible accidents – fuels are notoriously flammable and subject to horrible accidents – and we need to prevent them as well as we can. We are going to lose some habitat in our quest for solar panels. This is not an equation with a solution waiting to be found. It’s an equation where we do our best, we fallible humans, to provide for our needs without damaging ourselves and our future too much. I create the demand which sets the wheels in motion as much as the next person. Polarized policy reactions in response to tragedies won’t prevent the next tragedy and aren’t usually sensible policy, either.

I mourn the recent losses of coal miners and rig workers. I hope people respond with caring and thoughtful conservation.

Author Bio

erin

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  1. disdaniel - May 5, 2010

    Efficiency…is the fastest payback, can start today (jobs jobs jobs), improves our national security, and reduces the pressure to mine every coal seam and drill every rock.
    Yet investments with 20% IRRs or better are not taking place…remember that $500 million Mayor Bloomberg pledged (EarthDay09) to backstop loans for efficiency improvements in NYC that pay back in 5 years or less? That program was made entirely “voluntary” after property owners complained that it was too expensive…that is right making an investment with a 20% or higher IRR is too expensive! according to property owners in NYC.

  2. Steven Larky - May 5, 2010

    Excellent point. I’m not a fan of offshore drilling (because I live on the California coast!). But as one expert pointed out on NPR the other day – cutting back on offshore will increase tankers carrying oil around the world. Which have had their own share of environmental catastrophes.
    So the only real solution is to cut down on our consumption of energy. And then you can go and oppose your (least) favorite form of energy exploration.

  3. Earl Cantos - May 5, 2010

    I don’t believe we can or will get off fossil fuels anytime soon either. However, this is a true wake up call and a very costly one at that with regard to business as usual in this country. We, as a society, use more oil than any country in the world by far. In fact, Americans account for 10% of the entire world’s usage of oil just for its vehicles. Roughly half of our automobiles are in the SUV- low mileage category. Yes, if we continue to drill for oil in deeper ocean territory, deeper coal mines, and deeper gas reserves there will be more frequent catastrophic events such as these. It is high time to say no to further drilling and seriously try to find solutions to this problem. We can get there by conserving, being more efficient, using alternative forms of power, and perfecting technologies to get us away from fossil fuels.

  4. veeek - May 5, 2010

    Well, I’m sure no fan of corporate oil or of political grandstanding and hypocrisy, either. As a consumer, though, I have to face the fact that I (and millions of others) have looked at the risks and decided to accept them. I am trying to conserve, but it is probably not enough.
    Because we (and I) continue to drive and use oil to power our computers and our cool gadgets and our huge houses, the fact is that the alternative to “drill baby drill” is “import baby import.” It’s very likely some of the supertankers carrying imported oil will sink or run aground (anyone remember the Exxon Valdez?). This oil rig was apparently nearly 20 years old, and it has gone through three presidential administrations. I am sure we will learn a great deal about rig safety and implement technological measures to prevent another similar catastrophe. My hat is off to those who will do this.

  5. dlmchale - May 6, 2010

    Hello all, a timely article indeed.
    The senseless loss of human lives sometimes baffles all logic. As a native Californian who has worked in the oil patch, Father and Granddad before, I can see how this could happen in such a flash. My prayers are with these families as with the families of the 29 miners, I have friends in those ‘Hollers’.
    So, just touching on a small point of this article would carry volumes of data, comment, expert position papers, environmental newsletters, web sites, internet articles and warning books that overwhelm the mind and time needed to consume the information; again on just a small point of this article.
    So, let’s look at an unseen underling part of this equation: the techno. Think of the ability of a piece of equipment, a machine, that is engineered to provide such a service-in deep water. The systems required to seek out this ‘blood of the civilization’. Harness and capture the product, process, separate, package and ship it and all the rest. It is indeed impressive, big metal doing an amazing job.
    Turn these minds loose on the great reinvention. Simple example: convert the Cato Institute into a think tank for reinvention, and the likewise. These are the tasks before us.
    Not in my back yard will always be in some species back yard. It ain’t fair but until you change the heart it falls back to dominion.
    I have this saying I want to share and I paraphase: …”bright minds work at fixing what is broken, genuis works at not having it break.” Einstein
    We are all this and more, I’m thinking.
    Again, thanks for the bulletin board.
    dlmchale

  6. Eric B - May 9, 2010

    Move to an area where you can reach all of your necessities without a car and sell the damn thing. Get a Trek bike, soup it up with all the appropriate gear and live a new lifestyle. We don’t need cars. We do need clean water, air and healthy bodies.

  7. Hartmund Rupp - May 11, 2010

    The oil disaster is one of the biggest problems for the nature this time. I hope it is possilbe to reduce the damage and to help the nature to regulate herself.

  8. Gladwyn - May 27, 2010

    We aren’t any “industrial society”. Sure we are invested in resource consumption from colton to lithium. And there are solutions that we see everyday in a pedestrian or a cyclist. And we could be developing walkable cities like the rest of the planet. But instead we cling to Cheney’s skirt and hope he’ll be a nice guy in his heroic quest for our addiction.

  9. Marco Gair - June 23, 2010

    This whole catastrophe with BP is idiocy. The amount of oil pouring forth into the Gulf of Mexico sprung up by 1000’s of drums Wednesday after an underwater robot apparently shook the containment cap that has been capturing crude from BP’s Macondo well. I question how much devastation this entire catastrophe is going to cost the sea when it’s all over and done with

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