Oil prices: what we pay for (technology, subsidies, industry profits), what we don’t (the ruin of the planet)

Posted March 6th, 2012 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Oil prices: what we pay for (technology, subsidies, industry profits), what we don’t (the ruin of the planet)

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

A rather disturbing conjunction of headline and photo with this NY Times story: deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, after a brief respite because of the worst oil platform disaster ever, is back in high gear. But that’s a small portion of the story. The larger reality is that it is back in high gear everywhere there is a potential field to be found, it seems.

We are going for it – we are going to try to get every drop of goo we can out of this planet to feed the growing population of techno-industrial consumers, and the planet be damned – which it will be.

As usual, the industry proponents nail the reason for this, and it ain’t just corporate profits:

“We need the oil,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice University energy program. “The industry will have to improve and regulators will have to adjust, but the public will have to deal with the risk of drilling in deep waters or get out of their cars.”

Yes, the problem is us – us in this country, us across Europe, us who want to go everywhere in our cars, us who want to travel the world, us who want new hi-tech toys every year, us who want fast food in cheap restaurants, us who want blueberries from Chile in winter, us who think weekend shopping a worthy human endeavor, us in China and India and Brazil who look at us in the U.S. and want what we have, us who want manufacturing jobs, us who want more than one home, us who still think there is some way to stop putting longer and longer straws into the earth to suck out the oil without disturbing our consumer habits too much or impacting our lifestyle too much or destroying the planet too much.

We want it all – and we can’t have it.

We cannot have a viable planet and continue on this path. But the oil industry is giving us what we want, what our habits and choices show we want, no matter how much we plead for ecological sanity.

Why are oil prices going up? Here’s one reason you don’t see on the news. The reason why all this oil fracking and deep-water drilling is happening now is because new and costly technologies have been developed to go deeper into the earth to get the thick crude, of which there is still abundance, because the sweet crude has pretty much been tapped out. What is putting off the ‘peak oil’ moment is this new technology. It is being used in the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Montana. It is being used in Alberta’s tar sands. It is being used in the Gulf, and will now be used even more in the Gulf and Alaska.

What the industry needed in order to develop this technology was expensive gasoline. They could not develop this technology at $1.50 per gallon, but they can at $3.50 and $4 and soon $5.

And they can with government subsidies, which is our tax dollars.

So we are all paying for this – mostly with our consumer ways.

But here is what we don’t pay for: we don’t pay for the ecological catastrophes. We don’t pay for the irreparable damage to the areas where oil is being drilled and fracked.  We don’t put a price on the water contaminated, the air polluted, the land and geography that is altered and ruined forever.

If we put a price on these things, we would realize that we are not yet paying what we should be paying at the pump. We would be paying two and three times what we are paying now – and the land, water, and air would still be ruined – except that we would stop consuming oil by a lot and some water, air, and land might still be saved.

But that would also mean the global industrial consumer society would grind to a halt resulting in severe economic suffering and chaos. Governments would collapse, the financial system would collapse – not because this had to happen but because we made the choice decades ago to continue down this path rather than make what would have been a difficult but easier transition to a new human economy – with now-destroyed and soon-to-be-destroyed ecosystems still intact.

Look, BP was not able to remove all that oil from the Gulf and its shore and some of the pollution will be forever. And what Canada has created in Alberta is ecological ruin that is permanent, or at least in the geologic time of humans.

And when the heroin addict is on the verge of death, the addiction is so powerful that they will still stick the needle in their arm right up to the final fatal injection.

By the time we figure out just how bad our choices have been, the earth will be far less resilient than it has been, and even as it is now, to take on the mighty task of healing in a way that can still support this species in something amounting to real quality of life.

Despite this doom-and-gloom report today – and someone has to say these things out loud – the crucial point is this: we still have time to make another choice. There are movements all over the world that would affirm what I’m writing here. I’m not making this up in a vacuum. And those movements and grassroots groups already creating a different way of life, and working to oppose this destruction and the policies and governmental decisions that support it, still have a chance at changing this world. We all need to get on board, actively, in whatever way we can.

I think because you visit this site or subscribe to it, you already know this. Thank you for your work on behalf of a new human civilization that is not bent on suicide, that believes us a worthy evolutionary outcome in body and spirit and would like to give this species its best chance at continuing that unfolding, to see what we might become if we take care of the planet that, out of its abundance, created us and provided so many gifts that are now threatened.

As I like to sign my email:

Love the planet; it’s the only one we have.



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