Posted by: bkivey | 27 May 2010

Cry Me An Ocean

On 20 April the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and setting off a massive oil spill. Current estimates put the average flow from the ruptured well at around 2100 tons of oil per day for the past 37 days. While this is a huge amount of oil, it has not yet cracked the top 20 oil spills in history, and at current estimates of the average flow rate it isn’t even the worst oil spill in U.S. history, despite what a breathless media is reporting. Of course, we won’t know the extent of the disaster until the well is capped and evaluations are done, a process that will take months.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects have inveighed against Big Oil and our ‘Addiction to Oil’. Whenever a technology breaks down the whingeing of these people is as predictable as sunrise. They have complained so often about the same things for so long that I am incredulous that they are taken at all seriously. These folks are indistinguishable from three-year olds. The majority of them throw tantrums without offering any solutions and when solutions are offered they invariably revolve around expanded government power and the forcible taking of private property through increased taxes. It may well be that some of these folks really do have the best interest of society at heart but it appears that quite a lot of them just want others punished for engaging in activities with which they disagree. And like children they demonstrate an inability to think things through. They focus on whatever bright, shiny object has captured their attention for the moment and they want something done Right Now without regard for, or consideration of, long-term consequences.

I should point out that in relation to the Deepwater Horizon spill there is one person who has taken it upon themselves to do something to mitigate the environmental damage and paid for it out of their own pocket. Kevin Costner became interested in oil spill cleanup methods after the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident and has reportedly spent $24 million of his own money on developing a centrifugal-separation technology that is by all accounts ready to be deployed. While Mr. Costner and I stand in different parts of the political spectrum, I fully support efforts to find real solutions to real problems, and Mr. Costner has made his effort with a workable technology and little grandstanding, certainly with far less hubris and more concrete results than our Community-Organizer-in-Chief.

One of the consequences of allowing emotions to cloud one’s thinking is the use of language that is imprecise at best and deliberately misleading at worst. Take the phrase ‘Addiction to oil’. Please. ‘Addiction’ is a medical term and is commonly understood to mean “being abnormally tolerant to and dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.” There is nothing abnormal about the use of petrochemicals in an industrial society, nor are they psychologically or physically habit-forming. I understand that people use scare words to try and convince others that they are doing something wrong or engaged in an activity that’s somehow harmful, and that the user of those words will bring them to bear in order to browbeat others into behaving in a way that the speaker finds acceptable. It’s just another form of coercion.

I have to wonder if anyone who uses phrases like ‘addiction to oil’ has any real idea what they’re talking about. Like a child repeating words that they don’t understand, I find that a lot of people mouth phrases and platitudes that they don’t understand and don’t take the time to think about. The fact is that the societal benefits of petrochemicals far, far outweigh the risk. It’s safe to say that without an oil-based global infrastructure the human population would decline precipitously and the standard of living for those that were left would be miserable. Who among the addictionists would like to live like an 18th-century peasant? One would be hard-pressed to find a person on the planet that has not benefited from the use of oil. Do you think the Inuit are going to give up their snow machines for sled dogs? That people in developing countries are going to give up affordable food and access to medical care so a few wealthy Westerner’s can feel good about themselves? I don’t think so.

If one wants to explore alternatives to the use of oil to maintain an industrial society, that’s great. But please don’t piss and moan about how bad oil is and how ‘evil’ are the people who make it possible for you to have your comfortable life, and don’t bitch about the problem unless you’re ready to offer solutions. Because no matter how ‘green’ you may think you are, it takes a lot of black gold to make your life possible.

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