Spill, baby, spill

So now we’re awash in pictures of oil-slicked wildlife, and the satellite images of a massive plume of toxic sludge swirling around the Gulf of Mexico. It’s depressing for the obvious reasons — that it’s a crime against nature — that it’s a devastating blow to both wildlife and to humans. There are no winners in this situation.

But it’s also depressing to read reactions and rationales. From Rush Limbaugh opining that the explosion on the oil rig was sabotage by liberals for political gain, to Newt Gingrich blathering about how it is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t stop us from expanding off-shore drilling. To Rand Paul, who apparently feels that being critical of a company that is responsible for the largest oil spill in US history is “Un-American.”

And because I can’t help myself, I find even more reasons for depression in comments people make on-line about the spill. I’ve read people supporting off-shore drilling on the grounds that the rigs are good for the environment because they attract fish. (This is like saying we should lace the sky with telephone lines because they’re clearly good for birds.) I’ve read people supporting off-shore drilling on the grounds that we can stop relying on foreign oil supplies. (That is a pathetic fairy tale — check out this chart if you don’t know why.)

Another argument is essentially that we’re already so dependent on petrolium products that there’s simply no way out of it — the only solution is to get more oil. This is like defending slavery on the grounds that it will hurt the economy to set the slaves free. Everyone knows that the only real solution to addiction is to break the habit, but somehow, when it comes to oil, the only solution to addiction is to take some more.

Sure, spills on this scale don’t happen very often, but that’s no consolation, and that’s a lame excuse to keep doing it. (Millions of drivers make it home safely after drinking, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.) Some proponents of drilling, in order to try and diminish this disaster, point out that it’s not uncommon for large quantities of oil to be released into the ocean as a normal part of off-shore drilling. Well, that’s all the more reason to stop.

It’s also depressing to see this massive plume of sludge in the water, and to remind yourself that, had it not been spilt, it would have been converted to gasoline, diesel, and plastic, and would then be burnt into the environment or tossed into a landfill, neither of which is much better than just pouring into the ocean. Either way we’re abusing the environment. Either way we’re being greedy, lazy, and short-sighted.

Add to this the fact that this oil — this oil that has stained the gulf — is just a tiny, tiny fraction of what is extracted and consumed globally. This is a mere drop when compared to our global usage, which is around 30 billion barrels per year. The US alone consumes twenty millions barrels a day.

For every oily plume like this one, there are a thousands more. The only difference is that we can see this one. The others are hidden in tankers and gliding through pipes. The others are being converted into disposable plastic bottles or being pumped into the atmosphere, combusted inside millions upon millions of engines.

And so perhaps the most depressing thing is the incredible ability humans have to stomach the invisible. Spill millions of gallons of oil in the ocean? That’s a disaster. Spew the same amount of oil into the air so that we can all breath the fumes? No problem there – wanna go to the mall?

One Thought on “Spill, baby, spill

  1. Sherrie Doke on June 10, 2010 at 4:10 am said:

    Well put, Adam.

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