Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oil rig disaster that could dwarf Exxon Valdez simply the cost of public policies we demanded

The oil rig catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is much worse than believed.  Perhaps 5,000 barrels a day are rushing into the ocean, and it could take months to stop. That’s 210,000 gallons each day. If it takes 90 days to fix, it’ll release 19 million gallons. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, by comparison, was 11 million gallons.

The economic devastation from the collapse of the shrimping industry, tourism and lots more may rival the ecological one:

This is part of the deal we make as a society when we collectively decide we want public policies that establish cheap, plentiful oil as Priority #1. It’s just collateral damage, and it’s predictable. There will be more oil spills, explosions, disasters, calamities despite our best technology and best intentions. We’re human and when we engage in risky endeavors to satisfy our addictions, occasionally very bad things happen.

So stop acting surprised or appalled. Let’s suck it up and take our medicine and not complain. Seriously. Any proposal that would significantly reduce our appetite for oil is assigned fringe lunatic status by the majority of voters and the politicians we elect. We told them we want cheap, plentiful oil so at virtually any cost. This is that cost. So are Middle Eastern wars. Global climate change. Children with crippling asthma. It’s the deal we made. Live with it.

We do have other options, but they’re generally ridiculed.

Slap a $1/gallon tax on gas to fund biofuels research, public transit or efficiency technology? Not even up for discussion.

Stop subsidizing infrastructure like roads, sewers, power lines and public services that create urban sprawl and accelerate our oil consumption in dozens of different ways? A communist conspiracy to take away our freedoms.

Increase fuel economy standards for vehicles? Well, we finally got a modest increase, but it took 30 years and is still considered by many as a radical notion foisted upon the auto industry by pot-smoking cave-dwelling hippies who hate the automobile industry.

The Gulf of Mexico disaster will, temporarily, legitimize discussion of some of these alternatives. And for a while the “drill baby drill” crowd will – on the advice of their focus group conveners and pollsters – shut the hell up. We also can expect not to hear calls for drilling in the Great Lakes for a while.

Then amnesia will set in. Gas prices will rise. And we’ll all go back to demanding our cheap oil at whatever cost, as long as it does not cause us immediate inconvenience.


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