I’ve been asked about why I’ve made no comments on the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe brought to us by BP. Some of it has to do with my reaction to what has happened: sickened disbelief – I find it overwhelming and consequently don’t know what to say. It is no doubt one of the greatest man-made tragedies and catastrophes we might experience in a life time. It is made worse by the fact that it was not brought on by terrorists or enemies of our nation, but rather by our own demands for cheap oil as consumers and huge profits as investors. It is a disaster of our making, by our own choices, greed, selfishness and lifestyle sense of entitlement.
I cannot contribute in any meaningful way to what should be done to stop the oil gushing from the well, nor to how to clean up the environmental cataclysm. And while it is easy to point the accusing finger (or some other finger) at BP or the government, it seems to me the situation was really brought about by us the American consumers and investors. I am not an investor, but I am a consumer and enjoy a lifestyle based in cheap oil. It is way past time for us to change our attitudes towards lifestyle entitlements.
I won’t comment any more than to share two quotes from the 21 June 2010 issue of TIME MAGAZINE’s article “The Spreading Stain” written by Bryan Walsh.
And all of us bear responsibility too for depending on and demanding cheap oil underwritten by risky drilling while showing again and again at the ballot box that we wouldn’t support a government that really regulated the industry. “This failure of government is government acting the way American people have said they want it to act,” says Sarah Elkind, a political historian at San Diego State University. “We get what we deserve.” The question is whether we have the strength and smarts to recognize how Americans got to this oil-soaked moment and to force the changes needed to make sure it never happens again. (p. 53)
And then there’s the rest of us. Of course, it’s our appetite for gas — cheap gas — that provides the hundreds of millions of dollars oil companies keep spending to drill offshore and the billions they make in profit. We buy gas-guzzling cars, resist the use of public transportation and howl at the idea of carbon taxes or other measures that would bankroll research into alternative energy sources and make them competitive once they reach the market. We accept the business argument that regulation is an evil that isn’t necessary, rather than a necessary evil, and then we’re surprised when a rig blows and disaster ensues. Well, what did we expect? “The American public expects safety to happen by magic and without pain,” says Berkeley’s Robert Bea. “There’s plenty of blame to go around.” We’ve been warned — now we have to learn. (p. 59)
The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is toxic to us all and results from our oil intoxication from which we have not been willing to pay the price to wean ourselves. Politicians and political parties will all no doubt try to use this catastrophe to blame “someone else – their opponents.” It is time for us to stop blaming government and industry from giving us what we want – as much oil as we demand as cheaply as possible. We want them to take the risks and to make it as profitable as possible for us all. And we want small government to stay out of interfering with industry so our taxes can be reduced. To our shame, we share in the blame. Will we be willing to share in the solution? We are going to pay the price for the disaster, so are we ready to pay the price for a solution to our problem of addiction to oil and our sense of lifestyle entitlement?
As many have noted, freedom is not free. Our freedom means finding ways to free us from oil dependence (not just dependence on foreign oil!). There is a price to be paid for this if we want to continue a lifestyle with a great emphasis on freedom of choice.