BP’s Drilling Disaster is quickly unfolding to become one of the world’s worst ever environmental catastrophes. Credible sources already are saying that the volume of oil gushing into the Gulf exceeds the Exxon Valdez, and shockingly, there is no end in sight.
As oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, as fisherman watch their stocks die, as beaches become tar-filled messes, we will hear a lot about the need to learn lessons. The oil industry has already started to push their predictable spin that although “mistakes were made”, they’ll learn what needs to be learned to ensure that this never happens again.
The cause, we’ll likely be told soon, was a faulty valve, or human error. If things get really bad (and they will) we’ll hear that the safety regulations that the industry wrote for Congress are inadequate, and they will be strengthened (slightly). Several mid-level managers will be forced into early retirement.
What you won’t hear in the mainstream is that the real cause of the Drilling Disaster is our addiction to oil and an energy strategy that is not based on rational discourse, but rather is the result of political calculations in a democracy which is as soaked in oil as the Gulf.
The debate on offshore drilling stopped being close to rational when John McCain struck a gusher of oil money after changing his position in June of 2008. Over the next two months, as McCain mounted his only serious threat of the campaign, a willing public was fed lies about how drilling off of our coasts would lead to energy independence and cheap gas.
In response, then candidate Obama announced an end to his previous opposition to offshore drilling in August 2008 by noting: “My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices. If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well-thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done.”
This, it seems, is what Team Obama usually does best. With Bush and Cheney, we were outraged that the oil industry sat at the table to make an energy policy. With Obama, there was no table – only the echoes of “drill baby drill” in their ears, and a painfully naïve desire to avoid conflict and seek consensus.
This isn’t the result of anything even remotely resembling rational discourse on the energy needs of the nation – it’s a cold-hearted political calculation that began as a campaign maneuver. It is certainly not a coherent energy policy.
Obama has an out here though, and he should take it immediately. Since Obama originally reversed his position we have all learned two important facts:
1) That the impact of drilling on gas prices is barely discernible – the government’s Energy Information Administration recently put it at whole 3 cents per gallon in 2030;
2) That even the best available technology cannot always avoid significant environmental damage.
We also know now, as we knew then, that the amount of oil that remains offshore is truly negligible and that the American public has always favored clean energy over offshore drilling.
The President needs to take this moment to educate the nation about the many dangers of our fossil fuel addiction. He can begin that process by doing something that Presidents aren’t supposed to do, but which we desperately need right now.
Obama needs to admit he was wrong about offshore drilling. It was a mistake to reverse his position on offshore drilling, and he should see that clearly now. If he can admit that, and lead the nation in learning this critical lesson at this time, maybe there is still hope not only for our coasts, but for rational discourse in our democracy.