Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oil and Water are a Bad Mix!

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By Donna Perezella
April 7, 2011

It is human nature to blame the big, bad bully -- that greedy, corporate giant who negligently dumped thousands of tons of crude oil into our own backyard. Whose careless acts, scientists believe, have caused large plumes of this crude oil to be caught in currents that have been carried as far as the pristine Florida Keys. Who unknowingly created a danger to both the coral reefs and precious wildlife with this pollutant that can kill the coral, as well as harm the aquatic life that calls these reefs their home. Whose utter disregard for the environment has resulted in a dangerous drop of oxygen levels by as much as thirty percent in some areas of the Gulf.

And rather than quit while he was ahead, this big, bad bully inflicted further damage on the Gulf by flexing his muscles and doing what he deemed as a "significant clean-up process." While attempting to right his wrong -- he planned to curb this environmental disaster -- he unleashed chemical dispersants underwater without any knowledge of their environmental impact.

Pretty easy to blame this greedy, corporate giant otherwise known as BP (British Petroleum), right?

And while all signs point to neglect and an inexplicable lack of ownership on the part of BP, one must ask these questions: Why was BP in the Gulf Coast in the first place, drilling for crude oil so fast and furiously? And whose oil was it, anyway?

Without the customer, BP might not have been there. And while much of the blame has been rightfully placed on the giant, corporate shoulders of BP, we as citizens of the United States, must morally share in some of the responsibility for this catastrophe.

It is alarming to note that today, although the US represents just 2.3 percent of the world's total population, it uses almost twenty-five percent of the world's natural resources -- water, natural gas, and oil.

Yes, oil and a grossly-skewed twenty five percent of the world's share of it. So was it the wants and needs of the US of this "Gulf Gold" that initially put BP in the Gulf and is setting the scene for yet another return?

To measure the United States's dependency on and overuse of the world's natural resources, one must look at its ecological footprint, which compares human demand with Planet Earth’s ecological capacity. The United States and the United Arab Emirates currently share the dishonor of having the highest ecological footprint, that of 9.3. Compare that to the footprints of other western nations, predominately in Western Europe, whose average footprint is just 5.0, almost half that of the United States. In these developed nations, energy consumption, like most other environmental practices, is taken very seriously.

These Europeans, who we most resemble of all of our fellow westerners, have always been more environmentally conscious than Americans. There is no love affair with air-conditioning, gas-guzzling SUVs, or suburban McMansions, because so much of their lives are tied to the land. There is an inherent responsibility to preserve what is one of their most valued treasures.

Which is why one needs to look no further than the Kyoto Protocol for a perfect illustration of this disparity in attitudes toward the environment. With a goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, the Kyoto Protocol, in February of 2005, set forth guidelines to participating nations necessary in reducing their carbon emissions output. The United States withdrew and declined to sign this agreement, citing that the mandated reduction would have a negative impact on its economy.

Or was it also the idea of driving fuel-efficient autos, living in a smaller homes with less heat in the winter and less air conditioning in the summer, too much of a sacrifice to make in the name of the environment?

Today, the average American home is 2,329 square feet, which is more than double that of the average-size home in the 1950s. And with this extra size comes extra energy usage. Homes are heated and cooled according to size -- which implies that Americans could potentially be using twice as much electricity as their predecessors did fifty years ago. As our energy consumption increases, it is only logical that our demand on the supply would increase as well.

Which brings me back to BP, remember him? That big, bad corporate giant who negligently dumped thousands of tons of crude oil in the Gulf, wreaking havoc on a community still recovering from a previous natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina.

So why would he be allowed back, risking a repeat performance?

Simple. Because until Americans adapt their attitudes, become more environmentally conscious, and cease treating the world's natural resources as disposable items, there will always be a need for more oil. And avoidable disasters, such as the BP spill, will be inevitable.

Is the suburban McMansion, with more room than one really needs, and the gas-guzzling SUV, that may average just 15 miles per gallon in the city, really worth the risk?

No need to tempt fate a second time. By becoming more accountable for our own actions and decreasing our individual energy consumption, we can avoid inviting this greedy, corporate giant back to the Gulf. It is our responsibility as good citizens of not only the US, but of Planet Earth, to do our part in keeping BP out of the Gulf.

Because American irresponsibility and the big, bad bully -- like oil and water -- just don't mix.

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