Sunday, May 23, 2010

There She Goes Again

Former half-term Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, is still full on "Drill, baby, drill" despite the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore oil production is fine if it's "accountable". Even better is exploration and development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Palin panders to the masses, promising comfort and contentment, requiring no change in lifestyle, asking no sacrifice that will contribute to a sustainable world. Her message is personal and national irresponsibility in a time of wrenching challenge.

In Palin-Tea Party world America is sacrosanct, endowed by God to forever be the Center of the World from which all ideas, authority and permissions will issue. In Palin-TP world drilling a mile below sea level for oil is just fine and dandy if you're accountable. No need to change or sacrifice anything.

Um, not really, Sarah. Offshore oil reserves don't amount to much in the long term for a nation with an economy based on continued consumption of large quantities of oil. The most optimistic estimates give us two years' supply. Much of America's wealth and prosperity grew from the seemingly limitless supply of resources. For a small population living on an immense continent resources were for all intents and purposes unlimited. That, along with a lot of ingenuity, made us strong.

Those resources are gone now. We used them up. That's why we are drilling a mile down in the ocean. Like a junkie, we are desperate for our next fix, so we will go anywhere and pay any price to keep the juice flowing. If we trash the earth in he process, that's the risk of progress. But that won't happen. It says so right there in the company's permit application. Besides, companies will be held accountable.

But accountability does nothing to ensure performance. Accountability, when it exists at all, assigns responsibility for harmful actions and penalizes those responsible. The oil has already washed on to beaches. Accountability, to the extent it ever happens, is after the fact. Supposedly, accountability will keep rational people from committing harmful acts but when the money is high, calculate risks and take chances. When they're wrong, accountability doesn't do squat to keep the oil out of the marine environment or the gas tanks from exploding.

Only two policies offer any real, long-term solution for America's (and for that matter, the world's) energy needs. The first is simple and direct: energy conservation. Conservation is the most readily available source of energy and can be implemented almost immediately. Ingenuity and innovation can further expand the savings. Serious conservation would demand greater fuel economy for motor vehicles and functional alternatives to individual vehicle transportation.

That's the second policy: getting serious about alternatives. In the short run, the prospect of finding different forms of personal mobility and livelihood is difficult and seems to be too much like losing something. In the long run, the idea of leaving a sustainable planet to future generation seems like something worth the effort.

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Blogger cile said...

Excellent post, Mark. I'm thinking that now, even a two years supply, might be optimistic for the off shore oil reserves. I'm also pondering the irony of conservatives being unable to grasp the concept of conserving. Greed is a mighty addiction indeed.

We spill blood in Iraq and we spill oil in the the Gulf and we spill tears for all of it and still...STILL no one who can do anything about it directly understands life trumps money.

11:02 AM  

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