Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Elephant In The Room

A couple of nights ago, I had a long phone discussion with my old friend Jamie, who I'd gone to "Atwood Fest" with a week and a half ago. He and his wife, he told me, had had a fight over his emotional reaction to the Black Hawks Stanley Cup victory. She screamed at him that he was emotional about this, but not over the fact that their marriage was on the rocks.

He responded with a five page letter, which he left in her car to find when she left for work the next morning. It's rough, but at least one thing has happened: they've finally acknowledged the "elephant in the room," which both of them have been avoiding for a few years now; the fact that their marriage is close to failing. They have three kids, ranging in age from 10 to 17, so there's a lot to consider. At least the dialogue has started, whatever the end of it.

This seems to be happening on a national level lately. I felt a little sick when I heard on the radio this morning that estimates of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were wildly underreported-- that it may have been spilling upwards of 60,000 barrels a day.

Doing a little quick math, that comes out to more than 140 million gallons of crude oil despoiling the Gulf of Mexico since the start of this fiasco.

This is unspeakably tragic on a lot of levels-- environmentally, economically. But maybe something good will come out of this: we'll acknowledge the elephant in the room.

The West's addiction to petroleum has, like any addiction, had awful consequences. Global Warming, acknowledged as a problem by every reputable scientist who has weighed in on it (a few cranks notwithstanding) is the biggest elephant in the room. Our petroleum addiction has caused us to sidle up to horrible regimes, like the one in Saudi Arabia, and allowed onerous regimes like those of Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria to survive.

Predictably, some have tried to pin this on President Obama. Some pointed out that he does not have a degree in engineering-- and the magical ability to swim a mile down into an ocean and plug up a giant hole. British Petroleum was responsible for first avoiding this disaster or mitigating it if it happened. When people pointed out that he should have tightened up the safety regulations that the Bush administration had let loosen, Obama pointed out, quite correctly, that "certain people" would have jumped on him for increasing the power of government and interfering with free enterprise.

The big elephant in the room, in the end, is this: there is a finite amount of petroleum and other fossil fuels on this planet, and extracting them will become increasingly difficult, dangerous and expensive. If more countries industrialize and don't develop sustainable sources of energy, competition for these finite resources will become fierce, perhaps resulting in wars. That is, if the global warming doesn't get us first.

I've mentioned that my renovation/rebirth of my blog will have some changes. One of the things I intend to do is to explore some of the options we have for the future. As I've mentioned before, I've been interested in these things, and reading up on them, ever since the first "energy crisis" in the 1970's. I plan on sharing what I've learned here in this blog. And hopefully now that our society has acknowledged the fossil fuel "elephant in the room," that knowledge will be put to use in my lifetime.


SkylersDad said...

I really hope that this disaster will serve as the catalyst to make us less dependent on oil, but I fear it will be just like the last price spike in gas. Everyone gets excited, then the cost goes down and you never see or hear of any improvements again.

mi said...

it's just sickening watching all that oil flowing into the ocean and harming the sea life and beaches.

Random Thinker said...

Amen. Our insatiable hunger for more fuel to run all our gadgets is the reason those oil rigs are out in the gulf. We bear some responsibility here. We also have to be willing to change.

Churlita said...

Great post. I know. I try not to drive if I can help it. I ride my bike as much as possible. WE have a lot of wind farms here and I hope that works.