12
May
10

The gateway drug to extinction

If you’ve ever wanted to see any of the living organisms in the Gulf of Mexico, now’s your chance.  Maybe your last chance.   I believe in protecting the environment as much as I believe in anything, and I’d bet that most of my neighbors in this enlightened, beautiful place feel much as I do.  We’re responsible for the extinction of everything that lives in the Gulf, all the same.

Kym’s post on the inherent anti-environmentalism of indoor growing got me thinking about how little responsibility I take for my share in the great American past-time.  By the way, it’s energy consumption, not baseball.

I’ve been reading everything I can find on the recent spill, hoping for good news, but nothing has been encouraging.  It’s hard to think about, because it’s such an ongoing, seemingly unstoppable disaster.  Maybe it’s in reaction to the horror, but I’ve noticed quite a few people trying to spin this latest oil spill as a good thing.   Lexington’s current article on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf for the Economist makes the case that oil spills can be instructive, but even his own argument seems to belie that position.    He writes:

So long as Americans do not reduce their consumption of oil, refusing to drill at home means importing more of the stuff, often from places with looser environmental standards. The net effect is likely to be more pollution, not less. Nigeria, for example, has had a major oil spill every year since 1969, observes Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, a think-tank. Putting a price on carbon would eventually spur the development of cleaner fuels, and persuade Americans to switch to them. But in the meantime, oil is both useful and precious. Extracting it domestically, with tougher safety rules, would bring a windfall to a Treasury that sorely needs one. When the current crisis is past, Mr Obama may remember this.

While I’m glad to see that someone can find an oil-stained silver lining in this disaster, I question the logic behind the conclusion.  Nationalism is as fictional as money, and it doesn’t matter how powerful those two fictions seem when oil is spilling into oceans that know no national boundaries.  Spill here, spill there – everything dies all the same.  I find it hard to believe that increasing oil exploration anywhere is the answer that we need.

I know it’s not the point of the article, but how instructive can disasters like this be when there’s been an average of one every year in Nigeria?  Do we only care about destroying American oceans?  Thirty years after Jimmy Carter tried to get Americans to change their oily ways, a cynical old fool and his moron sidekick almost won the presidency by shouting “Drill, Baby, Drill!’  to crowds of dumb and dumber.

I guess there’s always hope that Americans will wise up.  Maybe this disaster will be instructive.  Maybe we’ll finally figure out how water works.

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11 Responses to “The gateway drug to extinction”


  1. 1 Kym
    May 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I read yesterday that BP has only spent on cleanup the equivalent of 4 DAYS profit. Four days…No wonder they didn’t worry about the safety valve.

  2. May 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Right – it’s a business decision for BP. Really, a gamble, but given the way corporations structure decision making, a rational gamble on their part. Horrifying. Evil, maybe. But given the cultural elevation of money as the highest good, a rational gamble from their point of view. They lost, to an extent. All of that oil leaking out to sea represents a monetary loss. The image of the environmentally-sensitive oil company that was dreamed up in their public relations department has been undone, hopefully for good. They’ll probably lose money from whatever watered-down legislation follows. Still, I bet the corporate drones would take that same gamble again, given the same choices.

    No, it’s the humans in our society that I blame. I find it odd that people need to be constantly reminded that business entities are in it solely for the money, and that they have to be forced – with their lawyers kicking and screaming – to recognize any other concern. Even basic human concerns. That’s the whole point of a corporation – to take the human concerns out of the decision making process. My conservative friends who argue against government regulation refuse to recognize that, in the absence of even flawed government oversight, there is no constraint upon the destructive powers of unchecked capitalism. We’ve seen that demonstrated in grand form this past year, first in the financial sector and now in the energy sector – and yet, even with the magnitude and clarity of those two examples, we still lack the political will to rein in the suicidally stupid behaviors that continue all around us. That’s what’s crazy.

  3. 3 Goldie
    May 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I just want to leave a post here tonight. This is so big I don’t know what to say in this moment. I just don’t want to say nothing, I mean to not leave a comment. I am saying nothing. But yes, I am shocked at people not seeing that they are encouraging, supporting, and maintaining these giants.
    I have my gas consumption down to 12 gallons a month but I could do better still. And I know gas is just a piece of energy use.
    Folks say something even if in this moment you do not know what to say. We have to learn how to speak to this and gather the emotional courage to look at it, to be with it and to see our role in this.

  4. 4 Mr. Nice
    May 13, 2010 at 11:07 am

    My conservative friends who argue against government regulation refuse to recognize that, in the absence of even flawed government oversight, there is no constraint upon the destructive powers of unchecked capitalism.

    Bullshit.

    Oil subsidies are a joke to Big Oil. These companies profit internationally regardless of U.S. influence. Price goes up, they profit. Price goes down, they profit. If anything, the U.S. being involved at all fucks them up.

    The Democrats support legislation to divert oil subsidies to “renewable energy” subsidies. Pray tell, who the fuck runs the renewable energy business? Why, energy companies do. Now, what do multi-national “energy companies” profit off of? Oil. No wonder the supposed do-gooder “green” research and development energy companies favor hydrogen. After all, the cheapest way to make large volumes of hydrogen is by burning fossil fuels. Hydrogen is also potentially explosive and must be transported in, you guessed it, existing oil transfer and storage infrastructure.

    Another point Dems try to make is that bombing Iraq and Afghanistan is somehow protection money for the oil industry and therefore an indirect subsidy. Quite honestly, if we pulled out all troops from that shit today, oil prices would drop. Think about it this way: were massive oil producing regimes safer before or after the U.S. went around invading Middle East countries? Do oil producing regimes spend more or less money protecting themselves from threats today than they did in 2001? I would say Saudi Arabia might find it a little cheaper to protect themselves if the U.S. wasn’t meddling in their shit.

    This is all quite obvious. The price of oil has little to do with conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. It has everything to do with the cost of doing business. Now, if the U.S. would just get the fuck out of these foreign countries which would potentially make billions of gallons of desert gasoline cheaper, would multi-national companies have any interest in offshore drilling? I doubt it.

    For perspective, Saddam Hussein (a blatant, Rumsfeld hand-shaking U.S. agent) spilled half a billion gallons of oil. That’s 50-100 times more than any estimate of this spill. BP wouldn’t even bother drilling off Louisiana if we still had access to cheap ass Saddam Hussein oil?

    End the war. The more we bat around taxation, liberal vs. conservative, and other pointless whiffle balls of issues, the more we get distracted on what really is causing shit like this to happen: war.

    • May 13, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      I may be misunderstanding your argument, but I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. I would actually agree with much of what you say about oil companies being wealthy and powerful enough to shrug off the effects of government subsidies, but those are carrots. I’m talking about sticks. My complaint about my conservative friends is that they want to dis-empower government, because government isn’t very good at reigning in the worst excesses of business, thereby leaving those businesses free to do whatever they like without even the minimal constraints that government can muster. What I’m saying is that between evil and ineffective, I’d rather dis-empower the evil and work on improving the ineffective. I’m not opposed to rational governance. I want government to set up the rules of doing business so it becomes more difficult for the oil companies to behave irresponsibly, and government clearly can (and has, in the past) exercised that option. They won’t do it on their own, of course, but history shows that they’ll respond if there’s a strong enough public outcry. That’s the history of the environmental movement in this country, such as it is. I hope for more than we’ve had in the past, but that’s because I’m practicing my optimism.

      On the other hand, it sounds like we do disagree on the power of subsidies to encourage new technologies that might be capable of replacing oil. I don’t think you’re seriously suggesting that cheap Iraqi oil would be a solution to the problem that we both seem to recognize – that while fossil fuels are relatively cheap products, they contribute to our growing existential crisis. Therefore, the goal of any public initiative should not be to secure a ready supply of cheap oil that will enable us to burn more, faster, spilling as we go; rather, the goal should be to unleash the power of modern science to solve the problem of globally-destructive, profit-driven energy. I’m not talking about hydrogen or switchgrass or biodiesel or any of those marginally-better carbon-based energy sources, either. Solar, wind, geothermal – all have potential, but all are too expensive right now to compete head-to-head with cheap oil and cheaper coal in the capitalist deathmatch that the oil companies have rigged for us. Without government intervention, putting a big thumb on the economic scales, no one will invest heavily enough in those emergent technologies to get them past the tipping point of economic viability. So, I’m not sure I see the downside to subsidizing cheap solar panels. Money’s not real. Greenhouse gases are real.

      As far as the oil companies profiting from those cleaner, less-harmful emerging energy technologies…so what? I’m no fan of capitalism – obviously – but I’m not foolish enough to believe that it’s going away anytime soon. In an ideal world, altruistic scientists would be racing to solve the problem of clean energy for the betterment of humanity and all the other living things unfortunate enough to be here, now. But in the world we currently have, the brightest scientists are working for the biggest bastards, and they’re mostly working towards the detriment of humanity and all those unfortunate living things. But hey, if profit motivates Exxon to build a better solar panel, and they make money by shifting the balance away from polluting, carbon-based energy, that’s better than what we have now.

      And, uh, war? Yeah, I’m not in favor.

      • 6 Mr. Nice
        May 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

        I would actually agree with much of what you say about oil companies being wealthy and powerful enough to shrug off the effects of government subsidies, but those are carrots. I’m talking about sticks.

        This has nothing to do with oil, but why do people keep misusing that saying? I’ve heard that at least a dozen times lately, people talking about carrots vs. sticks. What the fuck?

        The “carrot and stick” method is to get a pack mule or a burro to keep walking by attaching a carrot to the end of a stick. The mule trudges on to get to the carrot but never reaches it. Carrot and stick does not refer to both feeding the mule carrots and then proceeding to kick it’s butt with a stick… that doesn’t make any sense, especially with a stubborn mule.

        A proper analogy is like so: The Democrats extend the carrots of “green energy” and “equal rights” in front of voters (who might otherwise vote third party) to get them to keep voting Democrat, but Democrat policy never actually produces green energy or social equality any faster than would have happened otherwise.

        I want government to set up the rules of doing business so it becomes more difficult for the oil companies to behave irresponsibly

        Such as what? What business regulations tend to stick to multi-national corporations that don’t benefit the corporation in the marketplace? The end result of any such non-beneficial rules is artificially high costs to the consumer. Nothing else changes.

        They won’t do it on their own, of course, but history shows that they’ll respond if there’s a strong enough public outcry

        My opinion: public outcry tends to be about emotional bullshit and not reflect any actual solution. Take the irradiated food thing, lots of public outcry… in defense of listeria and salmonella’s right to exist. Or anti-nuclear power… public outcry which sealed the deal on the last 30 years of predominately coal-based electricity. I know this seems subjective, but most environmental issues which capture the hearts of the majority of public outcriers turn out to be sentimental bullshit. Any substantial issue never receives much public outcry as it would result in too many inconveniences for the average person. I think this is why these same folks have latched on to global warming as global warming seems like something that somebody else can deal with… so they make a public outcry with their white boy bumper stickers while listening to NPR as they drive down to the store to buy a steak, contributing to the overall problem. People do much better as hypocritically offended by oil companies’ actions than they do at contributing to any sort of productive solution.

        While I don’t believe that cheap Iraqi oil would solve all of our problems, I do believe that the political situation in which cheap Iraqi oil existed was much better than what we have now.

      • May 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

        why do people keep misusing that saying? I’ve heard that at least a dozen times lately, people talking about carrots vs. sticks. What the fuck?

        Are we arguing about language now? Alright. For the sake of argument, I don’t think the problem is usage. I’m pretty sure I’m using the metaphor correctly; it sounds to me like your complaint is with the metaphor itself. You’ll have to take that up with the language police. For the record, I’m pretty sure an apple a day won’t actually keep the doctor away, either.

        A proper analogy is like so: The Democrats extend the carrots of “green energy” and “equal rights” in front of voters (who might otherwise vote third party) to get them to keep voting Democrat, but Democrat policy never actually produces green energy or social equality any faster than would have happened otherwise.

        Putting aside the proper/improper question, I still take issue with your final clause. You seem to be suggesting that both green energy and social equality will emerge naturally, all by themselves, without any political pressure. That sounds a little naive to me. To take one issue you mention: Social equality in the U.S. – to the extent that we have it – emerged out of a long process of public advocacy and political action, with resistance at every step. The problem inherent to a contemporary understanding of such long-term, glacially-slow, processes of social change is that it is often difficult to link specific actions to effects. In fact, what is clear from the history of this process is that no single action, no matter how great, could be said to have produced the specific rights we now enjoy and take as givens. Even something as specific as the Emancipation Proclamation emerged from a tortuously slow process, and required a hundred years of problematic implementation to effect the sort of changes that some might now see as inevitable.

        Contrary to what you’re suggesting, I’m not a partisan. I’m all in favor of a vibrant green party effort to solve the problems that the current liberal forces of our society have not yet solved. Unfortunately, no such party exists. No such solutions appear immanent. Given the choice between an imperfect solution and no solution, I don’t have much of a problem supporting the imperfect. On the contrary, if I were trying to come up with a way to enable business to even greater levels of irresponsibility, I would encourage just the platform you seem to be advocating. Split the environmental movement between a weak democratic party and an even weaker green party, and you’ll get the reanimated corpse of Dick Cheney running the country into the ground for another eight years. No thanks.

        Given the two party system that we have, any “solution” to the environment problems we have are going to have to please too many different interests to be true solutions, but that’s not to say that the practical responses that emerge won’t have any beneficial impacts. Do you really think that the business regulations that have emerged in this imperfect system over the years have only favored business? If that’s the case, why do you think those same business interests have spent billions of dollars opposing those regulations?

        What business regulations tend to stick to multi-national corporations that don’t benefit the corporation in the marketplace?

        I’m no environmental scholar, but I’d say that the Clean Water Act probably fits that bill. In fact, I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce is a big fan of anything that comes out of the Environmental Protection Agency. As you mention, there was a profitable nuclear power industry in this country back before Rocky Flats, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl helped to spur a public outcry against that industry – and the multi-national corporations that used to make money on nuclear power plants in the U.S. surely didn’t welcome the business regulations that put them out of business.

        As far as public outcry being sentimental, I guess I don’t have as much of a problem with that as you. Abolitionists were sentimental, too – I mean, have you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? John Muir’s effort to save Hetch Hetchy was sentimental, and though he failed in his immediate goal, he also contributed greatly to the environmental movement that currently exists. Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s effort to save the Everglades was similarly sentimental. The reason California’s coasts are currently protected from the sort of nightmare scenario currently unfolding in the Gulf is because of the sentimental reaction that followed the big oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 – and it was more than NPR listeners who contributed to that effort.

        Cheap oil is no solution, either; and putting higher prices on destructive practices isn’t such a bad thing. What’s more, there’s no upside to running down the granola eating hippies who have managed to preserve what little remaining clean water, land and air we currently enjoy. Sure, we would all be better off if all segments of our society would tackle these issues in a more serious, sustained manner, but there’s a reason why that hasn’t happened. It’s a shame that we can only turn to a deeply-flawed democratic party for help on these issues, but it’s a much bigger shame that the republican party has so consistently taken the side of greedy, short-sighted businessmen who work consistently to undermine those efforts. The democratic party has been weak, unorganized, easily-manipulated and ineffective in tackling the environmental degradation perpetuated by greedy multi-nationals, but they’re not the villain here, and attacking them only helps to perpetuate the problems that we already have.

        It’ll be interesting to see what effect the public outcry on our latest environmental disaster will have. The oil that is still pouring into the Gulf is going to wash up on the shores of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida – maybe every state on the Atlantic seaboard. It’s going to keep flowing at the same rate that it’s been flowing all month, and it’s going to keep circulating out at sea and washing up for a long time to come. Hopefully, the reaction won’t be hemmed in by any specific party politics.

  5. 8 Kym
    May 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    psst, J2bad, I vote for a search engine in your widgets. I just spent a fun but unproductive 30 minutes looking for something I’m pretty sure you said about the factors that Humboldt has which leads its outdoor weed to be especially tasty. Hot days and cool nights maybe?

  6. May 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Done and done. Thanks for the suggestion. I hope I said something cool, but please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a fan, not an expert.

  7. May 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    j2bad,

    Thank you. It turns out you weren’t the one–I think I found it in a chat room. I’ll have to dig some more. But, some other time, I’ll be back here to dig around. I’ll be glad to have the search engine then.

  8. May 23, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net


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