The Gulf of Mexico fills with oil. This disaster is short-term insoluble, even for highly-advanced, 21st-century, western nations. Medium- to long-term, there is likely to be a solution. There always is. The cleanup process will be long and painstaking, but it will be out-of-sight for most people. Once the problem is solved and years have passed, the shortness of human memory will serve to help us forget what happened—and to be surprised the next time it happens.
Petroleum is intrinsic to almost all facets of a westerner’s life. It’s the base from which plastics are made, which are essential to our electronic gadgets, our household goods, almost all packaging and countless other goods. It’s used as a base for fertilizers, without which our hapless agricultural system would grind to a halt; the same system uses a tremendous amount of petroleum to harvest this food. It’s also the primary fuel for the transportation system that shuttles cattle, feed and other goods all over the country. Jet fuel needs highly-refined petroleum; the food system as we know it today—far-flung and still tightly integrated enough to deliver perishables from the other side of the globe—would collapse without it. And our high-flying lives with it. And then there are our cars, our personal transportation without which so many Americans could never get to their jobs or their stores or pretty much anything.
The sentiment above is completely understandable when contrasted with the heart-wrenching photos of animals floundering in our mess. To say nothing of the humans that are suffering loss of livelihood and home. It is, however, not enough. We can’t boycott petroleum until we have either (A) another fuel source that is as portable and powerful as refined petroleum or (B) we change our lives significantly to not need so much portable energy.
Choice (A) is a pipe-dream for now. Fusion is the only possible way out—and it’s always 20 years away and it will never be portable (at least not in the short- to medium-term).
That leaves choice (B). We stop depending on food shipped all over the world; we stop pretending that petroleum is cheap; we stop wrapping everything in plastic; we stop disdaining healthy tapwater for individual-sized portions of water wrapped in plastic; we cure ourselves of our deep, deep illness that will continue to kill the planet and produce photos like those above.
So, yeah, hop on a bike if you can; but nothing is solved until we make much deeper changes to our expectations, our lifestyles and, most of all, our ethics.
The same system that is so heavily tilted toward foodstuffs that require lots and lots of petroleum input. The graphic to the left (click to enlarge) illustrates the basic problem by showing where federal subsidies flow into the food pyramid.
Until this legislative capture by the reigning food industries comes to an end, there is very little hope to be had.↩
Closing the Hole in the Gulf: A Petroleum Engineer Responds by Robert Reich
“Mobilize every possible tanker to siphon up crude from as close to the leak points as possible. Oil industry leaders as John Hofmeister (president of Shell Oil from 2005 until 2008) have recommended this, but inexplicably neither BP nor the federal government are talking about even trying this idea. BP currently has only one spot where they have inserted a tube into a riser, or pipe, that is leaking oil from the sea floor. The company is gathering the crude oil and siphoning it up to a drill ship for storage.
“They should have at least a dozen collectors. BP has 24 tankers that are being used to make money for BP, not for clean-up duty.”