We All Deserve The BP Oil Disaster
It is a sad fact that the one thing I have really learned in university is that nobody listens to scientists or engineers. We are, after all, the people who have the necessary expertise to identify and understand problems that pop up in the real world (you find a grounding in empiricism comes in handy). More often than not, we are also the ones who are able to give real solutions. What people do with those solutions is sadly beyond our power. Take the BP eco-disaster that even now is pumping the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every 3-7 days . The whole environmental catastrophe could have been easily prevented if someone was listening to engineers and scientists. They knew that there were problems, probably catastrophic problems with the one fail-safe device capable of sealing the leak, but, once again, in the interests of short term monetary gain, the engineers were purposefully ignored.
I’m beginning to think that this type of dull, boorish complacency and shortsighted neglect is not simply a symptom of the pursuit of wealth, or the sociopolitical system, but rather a fundamental, defining characteristic of humanity. We are rightfully shocked and appalled when we see the tangible results of our actions washing up on our own shores and destroying ecosystems that have flourished for tens of millions of years, but the part that really gets to me is the how surprised people are. If you’ll forgive the cynical egotism for a moment, the worst part about being educated is how you are rarely surprised about anything. This ugly, stinky environmental disaster will destroy that ecosystem, and the fragile coastal economies, but all this is simply a symptom of the way our society functions. The Deepwater Horizon (and the rig that was to immediately replace it and suck all the oil currently decimating the gulf up ‘safely’) is only one of over 4000 rigs operating just in that area.
The most perverse part of all this is that the entirety of the spill (about 2 million barrels as of May 27th) represents a little less than 40 minutes of our average, daily consumption of oil worldwide. Every vomitious barrel of oil that is poisoning our most precious ecosystems, the sludgy plumes of oil dozens of square kilometers and many meters deep, the unprecedented disaster of apocalyptic proportions, all that is a mere 40 minutes of our need.
So while we bitch and moan and beat our chests about the horrible tragedy, just remember that you (yes, you) are directly and tangibly responsible for creating the need for oil that unsafe and dangerous rigs like the Deepwater Horizon were built for, to drill 3 miles into the virgin crust to suck every last drop of sequestered carbon so we can pump it into our ridiculously inefficient and unsustainable society. Each of the 86 million barrels of crude oil we use every day translates into roughly 27 megatons of CO2 emission every day. That’s about 10 million million tons of CO2, or a cube of concrete 1.63 km to a side every year. We are directly responsible for increasing our planets temperature by about a degree in the last 100 years, and we are already on the hook for another 2-8 degrees in the next 100. The seas, being increasingly acidified (leading to a further catastrophic loss of biodiversity and coastal dead zones 1000s of km thick) will also rise 0.8-2 meters. That’s just with what’s in the atmosphere now, that doesn’t even include what we will put into it in the next 100 years.
So, people, listen to us scientists and engineers, who actually know what the hell we are talking about. This had to stop 20 years ago, it’s already too late to prevent it, the only question is how much can we minimize it. I firmly believe that we have the technological know-how, but we lack the political will. Here’s how we could do it, if we had an ounce of self-preservation:
1. Put a tax on carbon and/or implement an international cap-and-trade. Not a big tax to begin with, let’s start with 1$ a ton (or one extra dollar for every 160 litres of gasoline). Create an enforceable and meaningful cap-and-trade system, and give the market some incentive to stop being inexcusably polluting bastards. We should be able to reward companies that do not negatively impact the environment, but our system as it stands today simply rewards those with the best bottom line.
2. Take ALL of this newly created tax revenue and put it into alternative energy schema and sustainable initiatives. Make the choice between an electric car and a gas-powered car be a no-brainer. Make the price of coal 5x as expensive as wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear. Put a Solar panel and a Smart Grid box in every home in North America. Give consumers the option of where they get their electricity from. Build 0 emission power plants to replace the Dickensian nightmares that are coal power plants. Replace the aging power grid with one that works. Above all: remove the need for oil, both domestic and foreign.
3. Stop giving any tax breaks to oil companies for any reason. This should really be a no brainer. In fact, take a bigger slice then you are taking. Make those raping, psychotic bastards with such little regard for the planet whose resources they so willfully exploit feel the pain they are inflicting on us in the only place they care about: their bank accounts. They are one of the only industries to continue making money unabated in the midst of the worst financial crisis in recent memory, why should we allow this?
4. Meaningful regulation of the oil industry. We don’t stand for an airline industry that doesn’t inspect their airplanes regularly, so why should we allow the riskier oil rigs the benefit of the doubt? Institute checklists, failsafe and double-blinded testing at all active and future drilling sites. Give the people with the technical expertise (the engineers/workers/scientists) the ability to veto the decisions of catastrophically moronic corporate idiots about technology, so that the BP disaster can never happen again. Stop drilling in places where we cannot feasibly clean up (like, say, 2 miles under the ocean). And above all- make it crystal clear who is responsible for disasters when they occur and hold them accountable, even if that means destroying a multi-billion dollar company in the process. Throw those psychopathic bastards in jail right on the coast, so that the smell of their precious oil be forever in the air.
There are many more ideas that could lead us to a carbon-neutral (or even negative world). But I know that even these four simple ideas will not happen, because of our intrinsic selfish short-sightedness. We already have the fetid, black, rotten blood of the Gulf on our hands, but we’ll continue to gorge ourselves into oblivion, stupidly unaware of our pathetic plight. I’ll won’t mourn the passing of humanity, I’m beginning to feel like the world is better off without us, and after all, we will deserve whatever we get.