Saturday, June 05, 2010

A very real cost of our consumption

I haven't touched the BP oil spill story, since I didn't feel that I had anything to add to the coverage in the media and in many blogs.

Like many people, I feel angry and helpless because of it.

Stories like this one in the New York Times certainly doesn't help me.

Pelicans, Back From Brink of Extinction, Face Oil Threat

The images of oil-covered birds — pelicans, northern gannets, laughing gulls and others — are eerily reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster 21 years ago, and have in recent days have become the most vivid symbol of the damage wrought by the hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil that have poured into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20. Since the spill, 612 damaged birds had been cataloged as of Friday, most dead but some alive and drenched in oil, federal officials said.

Yet the brown pelican, because of its history of robust recovery in the face of extreme peril, has a special significance for the public.

All of this is cause by our dependence on oil - without it, there would be no off-shore oil drilling, and thus no oil spill.

Right now, all focus must be on stopping the oil spill, which is still happening, but after that, it's time for reflection on how we can stop this from ever happening again in the future.

We will need to look into making offshore platforms and pipelines more secure, but we also most certainly will need to look into alternatives to oil.

A lot of oil is used for electricity - here other alternatives exist; from solar power to burning of trash, from wind energy over hydro energy to nuclear plants. Some of these options are not available everywhere, but by implementing those available, our oil dependency can be reduced.

Oil are also used for transportation - as fuel for motor vehicles and airplanes. Here alternatives are also starting to appear, and more research should be put into these.

Plastic is oil based as well. Here there is research into alternatives, but so far with little success. This is an area where further study most certainly should be done, especially when considering the ever-increasing use of plastic materials. Recycling of old plastic should also be stepped up, reducing the need to produce new.

All of these things can be done, but each of us can also do something - we can try to reduce our oil consumption, by switching off electrical devices which are not used (including adapters, which often consume electricity, even when not plugged into anything), by walking, biking, or using public transportation instead of driving cars (if possible), and by recycling and producing less waste.

We didn't drill for oil, BP did, but we are part of the reason why BP drilled. We need to face up to this, and take the consequences.

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