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.

The estimates are out of date, but the page is from May 5th

Consumption in context.

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.


~ by Andrew on June 1, 2010.

11 Responses to “We All Deserve The BP Oil Disaster”

  1. Brilliantly insightful, as always.

  2. Best part: this is not the worst oil spill in history. The worst one was a similar situation, only on the MEXICAN side of the Gulf. It spilled for 10 months and caused massive damage that still lingers today. Why we still allow deep-sea oil drilling is beyond me, and I think it’s hilarious that Canadian and American governments are only now rethinking their decisions to allow Shell to explore deep-sea drilling in the Arctic. It takes a disaster for us to realize that this is a bad idea?

    I agree, the Earth is better off without our neanderthal world. And remember: climate change is a hoax, everyone. A great big hoax.

  3. Big Praise: I read the entire article. In the age of twitter, that alone is big praise.
    And I agree with you. I share your point of view too, but there are questions and problems that linger with me.
    1st, if we implemented a carbon tax, what about the problem of decreased competitiveness of our companies compared to those in other countries that would not have this burden. Introducing a carbon tax would create a trade imbalance. Protectionism doesn’t work, so I’m left to wonder if we just have to take the hit economically.
    2nd, what about those that say that solar, wind, wave and biofuel don’t make economic sense. If we implemented them, we might end up with higher energy prices. My solution to this is nuclear, and then the market will decide when solar, wind and wave make sense financially. But we really have to get rid of those stickin’ coal plants. I would like to see energy foreign aid. Charitable nuclear plants.
    That’s it. Those are the two problems I see. But I’m sure someone has a great solution for those them.
    My point is that the economics need to work. In a globalized world, we can’t act alone to stop this global crisis. And it doesn’t seem likely that everyone can agree (see Copenhagen). So the economics need to be made to make sense. That means legislation. Left unchanged, oil demand will at least hold but probably increase, supplies will fall, prices will rise which will result in more energy intensive exploitation methods for getting crude out of the ground.

    • I actually completely agree with you about the Nuclear option. Especially when you consider that the next generation of nuclear power plants will put out less radiation than an average flight, will be encased in metres of concrete and actually use current nuclear waste as a power source while the design makes it impossible to have a runaway reaction that everyone is so scared of. A power plant that works like a giant, 10 MW battery that can be popped out and replaced every 20 years, powering a small town and being virtually inaccessible to terrorist attack.

      Wind and solar need to be developed as well, especially because there are communities that would benefit much more from a solar panel for every family- that could be the energy foreign aid that wouldn’t need 700 MW transmission lines and a stable sociopolitical climate.

      What we really need is Electric cars combined with 100 % nuclear power plants and a competitive, electric high speed rail system. That’s 80% of the CO2 fight, and if we gave up one meal of meat a week, we could use the excess grain to feed the world and cut out even more emissions. The solutions are all out there, we just need to do it

      • That sounds pretty freaking good. I like the plan. Change just moves too slow most of the time. Things take time and money. And time isn’t on our side. 😦

  4. Quick note: This is called a blowout, not a spill. Exxon-Valdez was a spill. The difference lies in the source of the errant oil. Don’t let newscorp tell you otherwise

  5. As the oil spill in the Gulf grows larger and more deadly, decimating all that it touches, BP continues to turn down assistance from Americans who just want to help clean up the mess. (…I hear they even turned down Director James Cameron and actor Kevin Costner…)

    First let’s get one thing perfectly straight: If you want to go and help clean up the oil spill, don’t let some corporate Big-Whigs “handle” you into believing that you’d be more of a liability, than an asset. I applaud you for recognizing that we all depend on our oceans for our very survival. It is this water that sustains every living thing on our planet, and it is also this water that we must protect in order to save ourselves from extinction.

    BP has downplayed the problem in the Gulf from the beginning as a means of corporate damage control. I don’t think they’ve yet recognized the severity of the problem. As I’ve written in past blog posts; the pipe needs to be capped and the relief well needs to be drilled. It’s not an exact science by any means, and if BP doesn’t get it right the first time, they’ll have to do it over, and over, and over again, until they do. How many months (or years) will that take? How much damage will have been done to our environment by then? We’ve already seen what 51 days of oil can do to the Gulf of Mexico… What would happen if the oil was left, unabated, for several months, or years? It’s a frightening example of corporate greed gone awry and it’s criminal, pure and simple.

    Corporations should never be allowed the opportunity to risk the lives of everyone on the planet just to make a profit for a few shareholders. (What good is money, after all, if you don’t have air to breathe, water to drink, or food to eat without fear of contamination?)

    BREAKING NEWS: I’ve just heard that those enormous plumes floating just under the surface of the water have been certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) as crude oil.

    (Are we just casual witnesses to our own demise? I wonder…)

    • I hate to say it, but the fact that corporations are sociopathic, destructive monsters is sort of old news. They are a natural outgrowth of conservatives absurd ‘invisible hand’ mentality which has a limited role to play in a free market. But, like you say, when the stakes are the future of a city, state, nation, continent, ocean, or even planet, the american government has consciously and repeatedly demonstrated that no, the right of the corporation to make money supercedes those stakes. It does truly sicken me that we remorselessly killed a unique and irreplaceable ecosystem in the pursuit of little green pieces of paper that have no meaning besides what we give to it. However, since our very lifestyle is completely dependent on the all-present corporation, it would be hypocritical of me to condemn corporations when I perform hundreds, if not thousands of actions every day that signal my support for this. We can call for change, but what does change mean if there are no limits to how much money corporations can donate to political campaigns?

      • Money doesn’t win a political capagne says Steven Levitt in Freakonomics. I was surprised too. Well, he actually argues that it does, but only in special circumstances. Great book.

  6. @TheDestructionist
    That attitude towards celebrities is exactly the wrong attitude to have. It perpetuates the notion that celebrities are more than ordinary people, which they are not. When celebrities get special treatment, we all lose. Celebrities should be treated like everyone else: Poorly. Life isn’t fair, and being a celebrity is not something that gets you special privileges. But I assume you just misspoke. I don’t believe you actually think celebrities are special.
    Secondly, what would you have BP do right now that it hasn’t done yet. Their handling of the situation has been admirable. They have done everything they could do, and I don’t think anyone could have done it better. But that isn’t where they need to be investigated.
    It is their attitude and actions before the blow-out happen that is the problem. It is their corporate culture that doesn’t seem to have put safety at the top of the list. It is their lack of backup systems that makes them idiots. All mechanical devices can and will eventually fail. That needs to be recognized. There should be a safe backup for each and every system. Maybe more than one!

    Finally, here is an article that outlines the problem as I see it to the carbon problem, as it relates to the humanist perspective: http://www.newdeal20.org/2010/06/04/more-carbon-dioxide-please-11585/
    I do NOT agree with his conclusions though. Yes, we need more energy, but I don’t think we can sit and let global warming happen. We need to active in eliminating coal and building nuclear or similar CHEAP sources of energy.

  7. […] mind raising taxes for millionaires, cutting off the billions of dollars in subsidies for oil companies that pollute global waterways, and preserving the rights of unions to […]

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