Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ebony and Irony

Celebrate Earth Day with our updated, modern, safer, cleaner oil recovery techniques!

Here's the thing.  I get that we need to drill for oil because it comes from under the ground and we have need for it.  But I also get that there are risks inherent in the removal of oil.  Sometimes those risks are worth it; sometimes they aren't.  If an oil rig is far enough away from shore, maybe they can get some absorptive material out there to ring the rig in emergencies.  But when they're right offshore?  The commute is easier but the risks are more immediate and widespread because the oil will hit the coastline, and there's high concentration of life at coastlines, which is what inspired the first Earth Day that occurred exactly 40 years ago today.

One of the big memes in the last couple of years was "oil production is sooooo safe now that we won't have those nasty problems of the past".  I, and the Earth, beg to differ.  I don't oppose drilling outright - we still need gas and oil.  But I think we do need to be honest about the risks and rewards and factor location into those decisions.  "That'll never happen here," is inherently dishonest.  "We can reduce the risk to 0.0x% by doing Y" is honest but doesn't seem to drum up popular support, although it's what I prefer.  I do think there are areas that we shouldn't touch unless we're so close to destitute, it really doesn't matter anymore - but we should plan never to get ourselves into that state.

I saw glimpes of a PBS show last night on fishing (the one narrated by Edward Norton), whose premise seemed to be that the Lions are leaving Ghana because.... of overfishing.   It was more complicated than that, but overfishing played a big, unexpected role.  Now, imagine what happens if we have a giant oil spill in Santa Barbara - where 1/3 of all recorded marine life comes during the year.  Do we really, really, really need to risk 1/3 of all recorded marine life for a few barrels of oil?  I don't know.  There are also natural asphalt seeps here, so the water and shore do get some seepage naturally - I can't remember if drilling is supposed to increase or diminish the level of natural seepage, and if natural seepage occurs in sufficient quantity to cause massive loss of life and habitat.

There have been efforts in places to conserve marine life.  In one island chain I heard about, they set aside 10% of the coast area and allowed no fishing.  In 2-3 years, they had almost total recovery of the species that were nearly extinct.  Just by keeping one relatively small area unfished.  We call the problem the "tragedy of the commons" and I keep wondering why it's so hard for us, when we supposedly know better, to just tithe 10% or so of the land or certain resources to the earth.  Just leave it alone.  Plan not to use it for resources or industry beyond creating oxygen and filtering water and letting animals roam.  Our national parks are a start, but they keep getting the funding cut.  We have to agree that this tithe is both important and selfish.  We want our fish, we want our clean air, but to have them, we need to establish rules, boundaries, and limitations for ourselves and hold both ourselves and our neighbors to them.  Earth Day is a great day to think about this, I think. 

Make a wish.  It'll come true if you can blow out the flaming drill.