The National Catholic Review

“Spill, Baby, Spill” is a line Sarah Palin might have coined during these months since the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It is, after all, the underside of “drill, baby drill,” the mantra she used to evoke how easy and near is the remedy to our nation’s oil-binge blues. After Deepwater, though, one hopes that drilling and spilling will be branded on the public’s mind forever.
    
The United States has never seen anything like this. When the Exxon Valdez tanker hit a reef in 1989 that poured its oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska, it took three days for the oil to run out. That seemed long at the time. Yet even that comparative mini-spill, in which no human life was lost, cost more than $2 billion to clean up (of which Exxon paid roughly half). And that figure does not include any accounting for the jobs lost, the wildlife killed or the long-term damage to the environment, which continues 21 years later.
    
With Deepwater, by contrast, 11 men were killed by the blast, which spewed without a break for two months, until the latest cap has finally contained the flow. Even now, the catastrophe is so enormous, the procedures so complicated and untried, that the nation’s elected leaders—Democrats, Republicans and all others—have been forced to stand by, powerless, in full public view.

Our culture’s reigning class of finger-pointers, whose vocation it is to lay blame, has been busy since the spill. So have political pundits, debating whether this is or isn’t President Obama’s “Katrina.” Reporters have taken the human-interest angle, focusing on the victims whose livelihoods are jeopardized. The legalities and specificities must be taken care of, of course. Investigations must find who is responsible; legislators must lift the ridiculously low cap ($75 million) that oil companies owe after a spill; and the environment must be cleaned up, once the spill can be permanently stopped. But these lenses distract us from the fact that this spill is not Obama’s problem, BP’s problem, the Democrats’ problem or even the Gulf residents’ problem, except in the narrowest of terms: It is our problem, a warning that we must curb our national addiction to oil.

Oil-dependency drives the market the oil industry rushes to supply, and it drives much of our nation’s foreign policy, too. That dependency is a societal problem that requires a societal solution. This generation will pass on to the next not only the federal deficit, but its oil dependency as well.

To keep this from happening, we the self-governed, should answer a few pivotal questions, like What is the least amount of oil we need? What price are we willing to pay for it—in terms of taxes, conservation efforts, gas and fuel prices? Tomas L. Friedman, the popular Times columnist, has called for a $1 a gallon gas “Patriot tax” to be used for the development of alternative fuels. Imagine voters demanding that tax of Congress! How much of our national budget and our own time and energy are we willing to invest on alternative sources of energy? Will we trade in our gas-guzzler for a fuel-efficient car or truck? Will we car pool, use park and ride, take public transportation, ride a bike or walk? Will we set our air conditioners and heaters lower? Will we ever support a strong federal energy bill? When?

Ultimately, it is up to the public to push Congress to establish tougher safety standards for oil companies and limits on how deep they can drill; carbon taxes; tougher emissions standards on all oil-and-gas burning vehicles; and higher taxes for owning and operating inefficient vehicles. The public could amplify rewards for energy-efficient behaviors and penalties for squandering energy. Using the momentum of the crisis, deadlines on such measures should be moved up to reflect real urgency. By getting its own house in order, the United States might play a leading role at the international energy summits where China and India and emerging nations come to the table.

Mother Nature has grabbed our attention with Deepwater. If she could speak English, she might tell us that it is not drilling, but conservation and alternative sources of energy that are the only cure for powerlessness. If we want power, we’d better do something.

Karen Sue Smith

Comments

Anonymous | 7/30/2010 - 12:33pm
Karen,


You probably already know there is a lot of skepticism about global warming.  I suggest you read some of the basis for this skepticism.  I am not saying that there isn't any global warming in recent years, just that I haven't found a convincing argument that it has happened, is unusual if it has happened or is dangerous if it has happened.  



All I am saying is that the reasons for it if it true may not be so clear and second the ways to combat it if that is what is required are also not very clear.  Rather than get into a debate over whether global warming is happening or not or what are its causes if it is happening, I suggest you investigate what could be done in case it is true.  What Wester Europe and the people in the US want may not be a good way to combat it.  In fact it could be very costly to society and to use a favorite Jesuit term, it is anything but social justice.



I suggest you read the ideas of Bjorn Lomborg who says he believes the climate is warming but believes nearly all the remedies proposed are useless if not dangerous.  He has an organization called the Copenhagen Consensus.  Here are some links


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bjørn_Lomborg 

http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/CCC%20Home%20Page.aspx 


As soon as he started publishing his ideas he became a target for liberals and the abuse thrown his way has been more than abundant.  Many believe global warming has nothing to do with climate control and in reality has other political objectives.  I am one of those people who is not so much skeptical of climate change but extremely skeptical of those who are using it for political purposes.  These people are essentially preventing an honest debate from happening.  It is not the ''Drill Baby Drill'' people you have to be afraid of but the ones who want to shut down every avenue to new sources of energy.
Pearce Shea | 7/29/2010 - 3:31pm
There's a lot of Pangloss floating around here.

First and foremost, as Stanley points out, the "winners" of the LIA were those that had developed the technology to grow crops less affected by the longer, colder winters of the time. Yet, as has historically almost always been the case, there was no real committee formed to decide what crops to grow nor was seed distributes by local magistrates in an effort to protect the harvest. It happened, if you'll pardon the pun, organically. And it happened because it had to. "Smarts" didn't enter into it, unfortunately. Could alternative technologies have been "pursued" instead? Perhaps but it's hard to say at this point. We are, most likely, approaching a similar bottleneck (this time with energy and/or resource management, depending on who you talk to). The problem with saying "we must adapt as Europe did in the LIA or face the consequences of being the 'losers' in years to come" is that it is not necessarily apparent what choice is the winning choice. Probably not ethanol, as you note. Hybrid cars prolong the pain. Electrical ones seem to just shift it (we trade hard metal pollution and for oil and gas pollution; we trade one depletable resource for another [major sources of which would be Adghanistan and China, whee]).

Are cars themselves the problem? If so we will somehow have to drastically reorganize the infrastructure of our country and our way of life. Yes, cars are not necessary to live a good life (though, as you get further and further away from urban areas and head towards, say, the midwest something like a car is necessary to live any kind of life at all) in much of urban US. But neither is fast food. And fast food preys on the poor. It's terrible for us. It's horrible to animals. And it's not likely to go anywhere any time soon. Neither is alcohol. We know these things are bad; in the case of alcohol, we are essentially consuming poison. I just don't see it happening until it absolutely has to. If someone has to tell us "this is the time, we must do something," then it's not the time yet.

"Getting our own house in order" will in no way impress India and China. Yes, both countries have often tried to use the US's energy consumption as an excuse to persist in their deleterious practices, but you know what? Deprived of the US's example, they'd still consume the same, cheap energy (gas/oil) the way they do now.  
Stanley Kopacz | 7/29/2010 - 12:54pm
The means to replace fossil energy sources exist now and can be implemented now.  There are better ways to build houses and cars, and wind power and solar power are not superstring theory.  The technology is not decades inbt he future, it is already decades mature.  Altogether, it can work.  The question is, will people have the sense to pursue it, or follow the same old patterns.  During the little Ice Age, some Europeans started growing crops that could withstand the new environment.  Others didn't and suffered famine after famine.  The question which will be answered in the next few decades is how smart or how stupid are we as a nation.

As for ethanol, any method that uses farmland to produce energy makes us tradeoff feeding people and fueling cars.  Not a good idea.  Much better to go with algae and bioengineered bacteria to directly produce diesel fuel.

Cars are unnecessary to live a good life.  The only reason I need a car is because our system is structured solely around it.  As a transportation system, the automoblile system  doesn't work very well at all.
Anonymous | 7/29/2010 - 12:25pm
There hasn't been and probably won't be a sensible discussion of energy in the near future.  It is too much of a political issue.  Any new source of energy that is developed is immediately lobbied against by the various factions.  We are not allowed to pursue off shore drilling, drilling in Alaska, the vast natural gas reserves in the US, coal, shale resources, nuclear energy because some key voting block is against it.  We cannot import or raise cheaper and more efficient ethanol but must use inefficient corn because of electoral votes in key areas of the country. (Any body notice the price of bread lately?)
 
 
Alternative sources of energy are tens of years away so anyone pushing such sources is not being realistic about the world.   Meanwhile we send our money to terrorists who use it to cause all sorts of chaos in the world while we have here more energy potential than any other area in the world.  People like Brazil laugh at us.  Do you know that Brazil with 200 million people is energy independent and has much fewer resources than we do.  Their cars are light years ahead of ours in terms of fuel usage.  And by the way they are presently drilling much deeper than in the Gulf.
 
 
We are addicted to prosperity and there isn't anyone who wants to give it up.  And if we do give it up, we put tens of millions of people out of work.  Wonderful all this do-gooderness in the name of social justice can be.  Our prosperity and high employment rate is energy dependent.   And the rest of the world looks at the developed world and says I want that too.