Monday, May 24, 2010



In the midst of all the finger-pointing accusations and expert analysis of options, Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth calls a spade a spade -- "If ‘Top Kill’ Fails, Obama Must Take Reins."

Money quote:

"...there’s no doubt, at least in the language of relevant federal law; President Obama not only has the authority, but the obligation — however politically risky that might be — to take ownership of efforts to stanch the flow.

And the time is nigh to do so, given that BP has demonstrated, through delays in the release of information and repeated statements downplaying the gravity of the situation, that it cannot be trusted to carry out operations with the public interest at the fore."

However, CNN previously reported:

"officials of oil giant BP, while acknowledging their failure so far to stop the leak, say no one -- not even the U.S. government -- can match their company's know-how and technology in such a crisis. Administration officials also have said they lack the technology -- such as unmanned submarines that can work at such ocean depths -- that has been deployed by BP."

So why have the government take over? Because it is not the technology that caused the disaster. It is our life-style that caused it and our energy policy that made our life-style possible. That energy policy comes from the government and Obama is head of the government. Responsibility is arriving on his watch. It's that simple.

AND, there's a "teaching moment" involved -- for the Obama Administration or any other government (think of Brazil for example) that is foolish enough to still be looking for sources of cheap energy. As Wendell Berry and others have warned repeatedly, the problem with cheap energy is that it is precisely cheap energy that permits the plunder of the earth's resources, the devaluation of human beings and their labor, and the destruction of nature on a global scale. While our addiction to cheap energy has been and continues to be the problem we avoid it by the search for the right expertise or technology.

Here's how Michael Pollan put it:

"For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.

"Thirty years ago, Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer and writer, put forward a blunt analysis of precisely this mentality. He argued that the environmental crisis of the 1970s — an era innocent of climate change; what we would give to have back that environmental crisis! — was at its heart a crisis of character and would have to be addressed first at that level: at home, as it were. He was impatient with people who wrote checks to environmental organizations while thoughtlessly squandering fossil fuel in their everyday lives — the 1970s equivalent of people buying carbon offsets to atone for their Tahoes and Durangos. Nothing was likely to change until we healed the “split between what we think and what we do.” For Berry, the “why bother” question came down to a moral imperative: “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”

"For Berry, the deep problem standing behind all the other problems of industrial civilization is “specialization,” which he regards as the “disease of the modern character.” Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: we’re producers (of one thing) at work, consumers of a great many other things the rest of the time, and then once a year or so we vote as citizens. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another — our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician

".... Cheap fossil fuel allows us to pay distant others to process our food for us, to entertain us and to (try to) solve our problems, with the result that there is very little we know how to accomplish for ourselves. Think for a moment of all the things you suddenly need to do for yourself when the power goes out — up to and including entertaining yourself. Think, too, about how a power failure causes your neighbors — your community — to suddenly loom so much larger in your life. Cheap energy allowed us to leapfrog community by making it possible to sell our specialty over great distances as well as summon into our lives the specialties of countless distant others.

"Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

"The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels."

As Obama is drawn into the center stage where there may not be any quick fix or eventually desirable outcome, many are wondering which way he will attempt to "nudge" things. Maybe the wake-up call will be severe enough that he will actually have to lead. Let's see.

1 comment:

Grant said...

This is a fantastic quote from Pollan. I've always hoped for him to speak beyond the industrial food issue to the problem of industrialization in general. Here he speaks out loud and clear.