There is an image that haunts me.
It involves the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta. Eleven people are presumed dead; oil is leaking at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day, and the slick is 100 miles long, 45 miles wide, and inevitably spreading.
To me, the haunting image is of a submersible robot, deployed 5,000 feet deep, extending a metal claw and trying to activate a shut-off device to stop the flow of oil. This sophisticated, high-tech, somewhat brilliant invention, at one time the talk and hope of some Board room meeting, has failed, as have so many of our plans which don’t take into account the consequences of our actions and the fragility of the natural system. The image of this ineffective metal claw has become the symbol of our technological hubris and misguided energy policy.
Over the past months, we have seen the world reeling from natural disasters—the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the volcanic eruption in Iceland which disabled air travel, and a season of unprecedented flooding and winter damage across the eastern United States and Europe. All this, of course, plays against the backdrop of reports of the impending consequences of climate change.
In the midst of these disasters I can find hope only in my faith in the essential decency and capacity for justice of most people. We are on the brink of demanding better from our governments and our businesses to conduct themselves in ways that are sustainable and harmless to the natural system, which supports all life on this planet. We are flooded, at last, with examples and information on the necessity and techniques of how to live more sustainably, without total dependence on petroleum and its attendant spills, and how to improve the quality of life by consuming less and leaving more for future generations.
I spoke up recently against the State of Florida’s consideration of opening nearshore oil drilling and will continue to oppose measures that may temporarily bridge the energy gap but only by going backwards and at great risk. We must invest in alternative, sustainable energies and we are poised to do so. We need millions of voices to demand it.
The cost of this latest Gulf of Mexico oil spill is estimated, in this early stage, at $1 billion. Imagine what that money might have done to move us forward in another direction.
Write your Congressional and State representatives demanding their support for alternative energy technologies and policies at all levels of government, including subsidies.
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Photo: © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society/KQED