Better World Club

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gonna Drill? How About Some Novocaine?

Or Is Obama's Policy One That An Environmentalist Can Love?

OK, Love May Be Too Strong a Word. Accept? Tolerate for a Transitional Period Until Improvements Are Realized? . . .After All, That's How You Deal With Your Kids, Isn't It?

by Michael Shultz, former Greenpeace City Coordinator for Portland and BWC Employee (statements do not represent the positions of Greenepace)

President Obama's recent announcement on opening up huge areas of America's coastal oceans to drilling predictably drew the ire of both environmentalists and the "Drill baby, drill!" crowd. But given Obama's stated motivation for his decision, no one should be surprised that even the educated and informed disagree on the issue.

There are those who would like everyone to stop using oil immediately. That position is justified to an extent, as scientific studies increasingly paint a dire future for the planet connected to business as usual as regards fossil fuels. But transitions of that magnitude take time, energy, and massive investment. The changes necessary will require large scale decision making by our leaders and creative engagement in solutions by the American public.

There are also those who think the fossil fuel party will never end. That camp sees a transition to renewable energy as a threat to our economy and to our way of life. They are also correct to an extent, as some proposed changes ignore that many of the modern conveniences we take for granted have been sustained by cheap fossil fuels. But, at the same time, neither America nor the world can thrive in the next century without conceding that people need to live in balance with natural systems and not opposed to them.

So, on what points can rational people on either side of the argument agree? Here are three bits of gristle for the mind that help frame the debate more holistically.

First, America needs to become more self-reliant in terms of energy production. We should use more of our own resources and lessen our dependence on other regions of the world for our energy needs. A more self-sufficient America means an easier transition to a clean energy economy without the difficulties of being at the mercy of global instability.

Second, America has some of the strictest environmental standards of any of the oil producing nations. This is a good policy (and can always be strengthened). In real terms, as a result of our environmental practices, the last major spill related to offshore drilling happened in 1969. Any new production must be conducted with the same attention to safety. Oil producers must be legally and financially on the hook for any cleanup necessitated by their activities. As a country, we need to make it clear that we do not want to export environmental damage for our own gain, which is what we're currently doing.

Third, the US President is ideally the servant of all Americans, not just the people of his party or of one interest group. So the question becomes, will Obama's decision live up to this ideal? In pushing for a "third way," Obama is bound to upset both extremes because he's not giving in to either way completely.

The President spoke directly to that circumstance in his announcement: "Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates...between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place." He continued by stating that his announcement was part of a larger plan to move from fossil fuels and foreign oil to domestic resources and clean energy. In the President's words, "the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."

The President's motivation seems clear and direct. And ultimately, his new policy can be judged by whether or not it contains three key elements: that all oil produced must be refined and sold in the US, that oil companies are responsible for damages and held to strict environmental standards, and that this will begin a transition to a strong renewable energy investment, production, and distribution plan.

In other words, new drilling should be considered a concession to the reality that transformation doesn't happen overnight, and is also a bridge to a future in which new oil drilling is unnecessary. Obama's announcement certainly has this wide and balanced position in mind.

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  • The economy is not broken or fixed based solely on the price of fossil fuels.
    But, if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we are now, then the planet will suffer. Global temperatures will rise. Glaciers and iceburgs will melt. Ocean levels will rise. Coral will die off. Coral reefs will crumble. Ecosystems will collapse. Our children will suffer these and many other adverse effects if we do not reduce our burning of fossil fuels.
    President Obama, please help our economy in other more innovative ways. Please allow oil prices to increase--that is the only way people will burn less of it. Leave the drilling to the dentists.

    By Anonymous David Platt, At April 20, 2010 at 2:41 PM  

  • Politicians these days are not leaders as you allude. The corporate elite tell them what they want and the politicans give it to them. That is what Obama does. If the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) tells Congresspeople and the White house they want more bombs or bombers built Congress and Obama go along. It's about corporate profits, jobs, and stuffed election campaign coffers after all.
    Obama supports coal (mountain top removal), nuclear, forest biomass extraction and natural gas fracking more than he supports real renewables and energy efficiency. The Japanese and other Asian countries are at least a decade ahead of us in building and installing new energy efficient appliances.

    The U.S. would save more oil/petrol by reinstituting a 55 MPH speed limit than drilling for more oil.

    So, please give me a break with your Obama excuses. When he discontinues promoting coal, nuclear and forest biomass and ratifies the Kyoto Protocol maybe then he might get my full respect.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At April 20, 2010 at 3:28 PM  

  • Michael Shultz would you please let us know how your position has changed, if at all, considering the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

    By Anonymous David Platt, At April 29, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

  • I'll be quick in my response, in case it doesn't name me right, this is Michael Schultz. Obviously, the oil spill in the gulf changed my opinions a bit. If an opinion isn't subject to change when circumstances warrant, then it's not a very well-thought out opinion. This was the first major offshore oil problem in the US since 1969. But the effects could be devastating enough to change our public perception and open the way to new solutions to our energy problems.
    I've always believed that crises precipitate change. As people in traditionally pro-oil states are inundated with the effects of their choices, it will change attitudes fundamentally about long-term betting on offshore drilling. This will open the cultural space for a new push with both conservative and liberal support for clean energy.
    @ David The problems that you bring up are absolutely true. The problem with implementing solutions is that many people can not see global environmental problems for what they are. If we had a majority of global thinkers in the US, these solutions would be easy to implement. We don't. Not yet. So the spill will help people connect the dots and see the problem from a higher level. I think that Obama will use this event to change his energy strategy towards more renewable production and development.
    @Anonymous- As far as the corporate elite go.... The public feeds that particular paradigm, and the public can starve that particular paradigm if we wanted to. We give our money to these corporations, because in our communities we have ceded the production of our needs and desires to these large conglomerates. If you want to do something about them, organize your local community or figure out a way to serve a need in your community to make a living. That way, we create the recovery from "the Great Recession" and we do it in our own backyards. This undermines the dominance hierarchies that are the basis of many corporate and political structures and creates local interdependence and self-sufficiency. In other words, power-with rather than power-over.

    The issue that I was trying to get at in that article was simpler though. We are facing extremely complex global issues, and simplistic arguments from either political pole are generally wrong. It is what it is, and of course, this is just one persons opinion.

    By Blogger Librat2003, At May 6, 2010 at 1:50 PM  

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