BP isn’t the only culprit in oil spill

This article from The Washington Post is a must-read, as it details why the gulf oil spill isn’t generating a lot of environmental activism and outrage from the public — mainly because the anger isn’t at the oil industry as a whole, the unsustainable demand for oil, or the obvious negative consequences of offshore drilling — rather, the anger is at BP for not taking the proper safety precautions and stopping the spill fast enough:

It’s that much of the reaction has focused on preventing accidents — on tighter scrutiny of rigs and mines — rather than broader changes in the use of oil and coal.

The article details how most environmental disasters come with some positive environmental response, whether in the form of legislation or increased environmental activism. Instead, the public’s demand for oil — which leads oil companies to drill deep offshore to find usable oil — is not seen as the problem; BP’s lack of preparedness and the government’s lax oversight of BP’s response are given the blame.

But, our response is part of the problem. It’s never easy to point the finger at yourself (especially when it’s much easier to point it at BP), but more than simply not pumping at BP, people need to drive less and the government needs to focus on fuel efficiency. Kate Sheppard discussed this in a great article about offshore drilling and how better efficiency will save tons of oil (perhaps not needing to drill offshore for 85 years):

The other [efficiency] ideas aren’t all that radical: educating people about keeping their tires inflated, improving urban planning, encouraging telecommuting. They’re sure a lot less complicated than plugging an oil gusher a mile below the gulf has turned out to be.

One reason that people aren’t jumping to be more efficient is briefly mentioned in the first-mentioned Post article, which is climate change skepticism. A huge pet peeve of mine is when climate change is billed as the only concern of environmentalists, and anti-environmentalists simply use the climate change e-mails (the climate change scientists involved were recently exonerated) or other skeptical information to try to discredit environmentalism in its entirety.

To this, I would say there are countless detrimental effects of oil production/consumption/spills in that have nothing to do with carbon, which include hurting ecosystems and wildlife (e.g. in the gulf oil spill, the oil killing the plankton has rippling effects throughout the entire food chain); water and soil pollution (more detailed information here about toxic chemicals, runoff, ruined vegetation is here; obviously the gulf oil spill is contaminating the ocean, wildlife, and the shore), deforestation, and car exhaust leading to air pollution and reduced air quality, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, neurological problems, blood problems, and even skin problems. There’s also smog, noise pollution, and traffic — they all contribute to a lower quality of life.

But anyway, we need to take this tragic event — the oil is still spilling into the ocean — and learn from our mistakes. The biggest mistake wasn’t that BP couldn’t fix the leak or that the safety regulations were too lax; it is that our oil dependency is so strong that it leads to safety oversights, lax regulations, and eventual catastrophes.

Regarding the original sentiment that the spill isn’t producing any new activism, you can show your activism by driving less, biking more, walking more, carpooling more, mowing the lawn less, using less fertilizer, buying locally, and sending an e-mail or a letter to your senator or representative about better infrastructure planning and energy efficiency. Our goal should be to reduce oil consumption, not just shift it to a new oil company.


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