Petroleum Saved the Whales . . .
Petroleum Saved the Whales . . .
CAMPAIGN: Oil spill coverage
In his 1991 “can’t–put-it-down” book The Prize, Daniel Yergin writes engagingly about the birth and rise of the petroleum industry. In the 1850’s, society was using whale oil for lighting homes, and the big beasts were getting scarcer all the time. Rising prices for whale oil kept whaling ships in the hunt, and a search for a cheap abundant substitute was afoot. Enter “rock oil”, petroleum pooling on the ground in Pennsylvania. It was used to make kerosene, and as people switched wholesale to kerosene lamps instead of whale oil, the whaling industry died down, and the whales got a respite from a march to extinction.
But now petroleum is the problem, not the solution. Like the whales, oil is getting scarcer relative to demand, but rising prices keep oil drilling rigs in the hunt for more crude. A search for green alternatives is afoot, from natural gas (a fossil fuel, but far cleaner and producing far less waste CO2 than oil) to electric vehicles, bio fuels and wind, solar and new generation nuclear power that uses nuclear waste as fuel, dramatically reducing its radioactive danger in the process.
Oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico as of this writing. The brown crude sludge is reaching beaches, marshes, fisheries and estuaries along the Gulf Coast, killing dolphins, turtles and sea birds. Isn’t it time to try a bold new direction? While BP attempts, “top hats”, “top kills” and “junk shots” to stem the flow, we have a “unique shot” right now for a “Fuels Revolution “- after all, 2/3rds of the oil we pump goes into fuels and transportation.
Thomas Friedman nails it again in his recent NY Times column, Obama and the Oil Spill. He makes the point that just as we had a real opening to dramatically shift from fossil fuels after 9/11, we face a similar opportunity now. Only the deepest denial can block out the images of the oil and gas escaping from the BP oil well a mile below the Gulf. The massive waste of resources, lives, livelihoods and the sensitive coastal environment cry “Wake Up!” It’s clear to this writer that now is the time-again - to radically turn from oil and coal and build the next industrial age. An age where, like Ma Nature, we ride the free energy of the sun, and the solar, wind, and biofuel energy it provides.
It will take decades to remove the needle of oil addiction from the veins of society and get clean and sober as a species. We are all junkies strung out on fossil dope. But like any addiction, delay just makes the inevitable consequences worse. I’m cutting my driving to the bone, scoping out the electric vehicles for my next ride, and seriously looking into a horse and buggy for local travel. The Amish may have it right about internal combustion.
Friedman suggests we add a hefty tax to gasoline, (offset by a reduction in payroll tax) and use the funds to spur solar, wind, biofuel and other green energy development. Nobody likes higher taxes, but hey, when you’re headed into detox, you’ve got to pay the piper. The luxury of denial and delay is past. It’s time to go cold turkey into a waste free green energy future, before more of nature’s marvels disappear beneath the waves.
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