My kid ADORES Legos. And yet--
Eleven people dead from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in addition to 41 oil-industry related deaths and 302 injuries between 2001-2007. Oil-covered pelicans. Dolphin carcasses choked with oil.
Legos are made with plastic, a product that requires petroleum in its manufacture.
And there, in a nutshell, is everyone's addiction to oil. It's woven so completely in our lives, in our kids' favorite toys, the convenient sandwich bags we use, the useful stain-free fabric in our upholstered car seats, in our prettifying makeup. To divest ourselves of these things feels like removing joy, ease, or what's surely a minor, harmless, and pleasing indulgence from our lives. No wonder we resist.
Jon Stewart framed our oil dependency as if we Americans are collectively battered spouses unable to get ourselves free of a clearly abusive relationship. (About 2:48 in.)
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Spilling Fields - BP Ad Campaign|
Bill Maher took a more punitive line, saying that if the oil industry needs to die in order for us to fully embrace a sustainable energy future, then so be it. (See 3:02 in and onward.)
Now Bill Maher has a way of provoking in the most frat-boy, insensitive-jerk way possible, but I think he has a point when he says, "If the government hired away all 58,000 oil workers who work now in the state of Louisiana, and paid them their same salary repairing infrastructure and building solar panels, that would cost us $5.5 billion--which is what the Pentagon loses in the couch. ...Jobs come and go. Once a species is extinct, it's forever."
I think the species Maher's referring to is us.
Both comedians' analogies, while imperfect, are meant to shock and unsettle. The status quo isn't sustainable.
We have to contemplate the unspeakable, because clearly oil companies didn't even contemplate the likely (a leak, explosion, or spill--or all three). The unspeakable? The well won't be capped or the relief well won't work until MONTHS from now. Worst of all? The leak can't be stopped. The truly unspeakable? The Gulf coast turns into a dead zone for decades, if not hundreds of years. The unimaginable? Enough oil despoils the ocean that a good percentage of it is forever polluted, throwing our planet out of balance and threatening animal, human, and plant life in ways we can barely predict. We need to prepare for the unspeakable and unimaginable if we're ever to prevent it.
And this isn't even taking into account severe hurricanes expected this summer to hit the Gulf Coast as a result of the global climate crisis. It's dawning on us that we may be in very deep shit.
Given the stakes of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, I can see why some found President Obama's speech from the Oval Office rather lacking. But rather than look for drama in our response to the situation, which seems to be a press priority, I find it reassuring that the president is focused on what the federal government can and must do to hold BP accountable.
- There's finally a person in charge at Minerals Management Services who seems competent, appropriately skeptical of corporate assurances, and fully capable of cracking down on non-compliance.
- One of the world's richest and most powerful corporations was brought to heel by our president and voluntarily set aside a minimum of $20 billion in an escrow account and pledged collateral toward it. BP also pays $500 million toward ocean research on mitigating oil and gas pollution and $100 million to oil rig workers left out of work by the disaster.
These are huge steps. They don't fix the leak, but they at least keep Gulf coast residents from completely going under.
UNLIKE insensitive boob Bill Maher, President Obama has not left those line-level workers in the oil industry high and dry while we transition to some other sustainable energy economy. But those line-level oil industry workers, as well as those in the fishing and tourism industries on the Gulf, must surely be aware that they may need to find new forms of work.
On Earth Day 2009, President Obama announced in Newton, Iowa, that he was opening up the
leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources [emphasis mine]. And this will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy. For example, there is enormous interest in wind projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, and today's announcement will enable these projects to move forward.
While Obama has announced a six month moratorium on deep ocean drilling for oil, I think he should throw the gates open to leasing the same oil-befouled Gulf waters to offshore wind and water turbine development. Oil rig workers understand how to build and maintain complex ocean structures. If we succeed in kicking the oil habit, oil industry jobs will go away--but the expertise of building and maintaining those ocean structures will still be needed to maintain offshore wind and wave farms.
What I did find deeply unsatisfying was the president's invocation of the ramping up of production for World War II during his "battle plan" speech from the Oval Office. He said:
The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon.
It wasn't only a matter of technological or manufacturing logistics--during WWII, Americans were asked to sacrifice for a greater good against a clear enemy. We have not been asked to sacrifice as a people for the wars we're currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan--the burden has fallen disproportionately on a few. And here, in the face of this terrible oil spill, one that threatens our future as surely as any enemy, we were not asked to sacrifice any part of the wasteful ways in which we live or to willingly give what we're ready to part with for the cause. As Bob Cesca has written, "Americans just don't do sacrifice any more."
Mr. President, you need to mobilize the American people. We've tried 30+ years of blinkered, lackadaisical, meandering energy conservation--or worse, the same old profligate habits. 'Effort,' like 'taxes,' seems to be anathema to politics. But without it we won't be able to overcome the inertia that keeps us locked in the same old self-destructive rut. See, this time, WE are our own worst enemy.
This is what I personally want our government to do:
- Use the resources of the non-profit Corporation for National & Community Service to organize volunteers to help in the Gulf states. Organizing for America may also be a valuable resource. People are concerned. People want to help. We are galvanized, we care deeply about the Gulf states. Thousands, maybe millions of volunteers would come to the Gulf states if only they knew what to do. Can they help assemble boom on shore while trained workers paid by BP dispatch it in the water? Can they assist in wildlife counts (necessary to asses punitive damages against BP) and rescue efforts? Can they fill and organize storage of sandbags to stop already delicate shore areas from eroding in the next hurricane? Grassroots people on the ground, observing the direct effects of an oil spill, helping and trying to do what they can--this is how you build stakeholders in not only the Gulf but the bigger project of turning people to renewable energy.
- Train and employ people as part of a new Civilian Conservation Corps, as suggested by Robert Reich and others.
- The "helpline" set up by BP isn't working. It seems to be a useless venthole. Meanwhile plausible and well-thought out solutions abound online. Use your web 2.0 savvy to crowdsource and implement some of the best suggestions, and if they work, make BP utilize them. Here's one example: a corral to maneuver leaked oil from the burst well at the seabed floor to the water's surface, where it can be captured. Let American ingenuity flower by giving thousands of inventors, engineers, innovators, and others with low-cost, low environmental impact solutions a chance to experiment with their fixes. Set up fast-acting science committees to vet projects and then pair waterfront communities and towns with the inventors. Everyone understands that some attempt at a solution is better than no solution at all. Small towns on the Gulf are already ginning up whatever solutions they can muster on their own. Wouldn't government-facilitated assistance in vetting and implementation be better than doing nothing? Wouldn't this be a way of sharing and organizing the on-the-ground knowledge of what *does* work so communities can replicate it as soon as possible? Make no mistake, we are under a time clock to shut down the well. The worst thing we can do is let our fickle attention spans wander to the next media spectacle.
- Throw down the gauntlet to the Christian Stewardship movement. Use the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Where are these Green Christians and other people of faith? I've taken a look around the interwebs and so far, with a few exceptions here, here, and here: CRICKETS. (Especially sad this organization is in disarray.) Then again, I'm not a churchgoer, so maybe the horror and need for new behavior is reverberating more powerfully than I give it credit for. But for once I'd like to see the faith community's profile on renewable energy be as visible and vocal as it is on issues pertaining to women's health or marriage status.
- I want to hear what plan is in place to PREVENT further ecological destruction as the result of a hurricane or other tropical storm. We know storms are coming. It was bad enough to be caught flat-footed the first time on the explosion and leaking well. I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT RESCUE AND REMEDIATION EFFORTS AFTERWARDS. NO HANDWRINGING. I want to hear this from BP with great urgency and forethought, and with details tailored to the region, unlike the half-assed spill plans referencing walruses and other sealife not found in the Gulf. The federal government should double check and coordinate emergency evacuation and other plans now, before storms occur.
- Let's put all the energy/climate bills we have pending on the table and pass legislation that sets real, achievable goals for kicking our oil addiction. Waxman-Markey passed in the House--what's the status of the Kerry-Lieberman climate and clean energy jobs bill making its way through the Senate?
- We need the messge driven home again and again: it isn't sacrifice if everyone's doing it. Instead, it's patriotism. It's a greater good we're striving for, because it fits with our values. It's not deprivation, it's discipline we choose in order to bring about our goals. If peer pressure isn't sufficient, then let's use the carrots and sticks of our laws to help us go in the right direction.
- Enlist artists in the cause--we need ways to channel our rage, fear, confusion, frustration, and hope. We need inspiration to keep from backsliding. We need to celebrate when we make progress. Green concerts teach by example--how can a large group of people come together with minimal ecological impact?
So here's what I personally am doing:
- Meatless Mondays, Carless Sundays (Carless Sundays for religious folks)
- Two varieties of watermelon, sugar snap peas, blue kale, peas, beets, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and fava beans in my garden. We already use plant-based cleaners that are biodegradable, we compost, and have shifted our diet to from mostly meat to mostly greens
- Go on a plastic fast
- Buy only organic plant-based personal care products
- Re-elect Barbara Boxer for Senator from California, because she had the motherwit to send me an email regarding fast-tracking federal funding for Los Angeles city's "Subway to the Sea" connecting downtown with the westside
- Support Senator Leahy's proposed Enforcing Environmental Crimes Act (ECEA) to make restitution mandatory for victims of oil company criminal negligence
- By the end of 2010, find the most economical way to get our house solar-powered
- Boycott BP--yes, even though it might not have the economic impact I'd like. Because what a boycott teaches me is that I CAN LIVE WITHOUT OIL, one oil corporation at a time. I can get an electric vehicle. I can ride my bike to the store.
- Support airlines that use biofuel
- I will vote, call, register voters, support wholeheartedly any public official who will pass a stringent energy bill in 2010, as outlined by Rachel Maddow below:
And Legos? I may have to start a letter writing campaign urging them to use either 100% recycled plastic or switch to plant cellulose or some other substitute. The company is a signatory to the UN Global Compact, but while their plastic toys meet or exceed safety standards and they've worked hard to maximize energy efficiency in the manufacture of their toys (pdf), the fact remains that the material they use for their bricks is not sustainable.
In the meantime, the library has plenty of other delights my kid can enjoy.
Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k.