Monday, May 17, 2010

Drill Baby Drill

For almost three weeks a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been spreading at huge rate. If nothing is real until it is on T.V. then our energy policy has become more than real; it has become hyper-real. The dangers and cost of our reliance on fossil fuels are no longer some abstract notion put forward by the charisma challenged Albert Gore, they have congealed, very much like the tar balls hitting the gulf shore, into a huge mess. Day by day the Deep Water Horizon spews millions of gallons of raw crude oil. Day by day our politicians and our political system scurries about trying to assign blame. If it were not for the very real and very awful destruction being done to the environment and the economy of the Gulf States it would be great entertainment.

One of the grimmer bits of black comedy being performed by the political class is the medicine show being brought to you by the Republican Party, sponsored by the usual suspects on the right. It was only two years ago these people gleefully broadcast their willful ignorance by shouting their slogan of "drill baby, drill" to any unwary soul who might be in hailing distance. That slogan, totally lacking in even a modicum of serious thought and needlessly belligerent, is looking a lot less brilliant these days. Some Elephants have tried to tip-toe back from the abyse claiming, despite huge archival evidence to the contrary, that they never said those three magic words of drill baby drill. The claim goes that the actual statement was drill here, drill now. It is a distinction without a difference. The less squeamish have done what always come naturally to red-blooded reactionaries; they have doubled down. They are still unwilling to have anything as messy as the actual facts come between them and their fantasy of a return to the glory days of twenty five cents a gallon gas.

It is easy to fix the date when conservatives abandoned their long cherished notions of responsibility. It was when Ronald Regan came to prominence. The Gipper not only managed to get conservatives to abandon the thrift of the ant to take up the reckless lifestyle of the grasshopper; he managed to get the rest of the nation to join the party. Granted Don Renaldo got a huge assist from the ever prissy Baptist Jimmy Carter, a man who was about as much fun as cold, week old, unflavored oatmeal. Carter had the bad form to suggest that the oil shock of the late 1970 was a wakeup call, that the U.S. had to curb its wasteful ways. Carter even mentioned the dreaded s word: scarcity. Of course the good citizens of the United States had no tolerance for all this doleful news. It was morning in America and cheery Regan assured us that we could continue on our profligate ways. Regan put an exclamation point on this idea by ripping out the solar panels that Carter had placed on the White House roof.

Thus for nearly a thirty years the nation lived in deep denial. For a brief shining moment we even drove Hummers as civilian transport. Headless of the actual cost we drove gas-guzzling vehicles and gave no thought to conservation. Some of us even stocked up on wasteful incandescent lights when local governments mandated energy saving compact fluorescents. The fun came to an abrupt halt in last years of George W. Bush's presidency when gasoline prices punched through the five dollar a gallon barrier. In the first years of Obama C.A.F.E. was no longer a dirty name and SUVs lost a large portion of their charm.

Still there was a large contingent that wanted to continue on as if Al Gore had never mentioned the dreaded words "Global Warming." It was no surprise these people clustered around the Vice Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party in 2008. Sara Palin was a member in good standing of the Oil Patch. Her state, Alaska economy floats on crude oil reserves. With the revenues captured from oil taxes Governor Palin was able to purchase the love of the voters in the 49th state. Actually the transaction was more like a temporary renting of the affections of the people of The Last Frontier. The voters were none too happy with their governors' behavior after the thrill of national political scrutiny had worn off. Sara Palin departed for the greener and warmer pastures of political celebrity in the lower 48 as a new governor attempted to clean up the mess she left behind. Still Mrs. Palin is a loyal acolyte of the oil patch fundamentalism. That faith blandly supposes that there is still plenty of oil to be had, and that oil can be had with little consequences. The only thing that need happen according to the faithful is that the mean ol' government and those mean ol' environmentalist get out of the way of the noble efforts of the oil companies. You will never hear the dreaded words "peak oil" or "global climate change" pass Sara's sainted lips.

There is a willful ignorance of basic facts by the true believers. There is a refusal to accept any kind of limits to profligate behavior. It helps, at least for Sara Palin, that this political fundamentalism is tied to a religious fundamentalism. The belief that God will provide the faithful if they only believe and trust in him is shot through the considerations of many people who support Sara Palin; it is an absolute article of faith for the former governor herself. To accept that there may be limits; that we may have to curtail our use of fossil fuels, is blaspheme in a very real sense to Palin and her ilk. God will provide; period.

Thus we have the absurd proposition that it is still required to extend drilling if any climate change bill is to pass in the U.S. Senate. Think about it, a major ecological disaster is occurring, one we still have no idea of its extent, and politics requires we put more U.S. coast line at risk. Supposed wise men of the conventional wisdom wring their hands because the present disaster has waylaid the absolute need to commit to further off shore drilling. It is like these people are also willfully ignorant of the term "peak oil." It is like these grave men have no understanding of the idea of a limited resource. Not for these wise and august commentators the notion of global CO2 poisoning. Not for them the massive scientific evidence that we overly clever apes are fouling the very earth that supports our life. No these grave and erudite men still contemplate such terrible ideas such as expanding Nuclear Power and Coal. These men insist on ever more dangerous extractive technologies that are bound to fail in the spectacular fashion of the Deep Water Horizon. Not for them the simple fact that bleeding-edge technologies have a catastrophic failure rate. Not for them the cold, cruel, inflexible and rigidly enforced law of Mr. Murphy. Time and time again the dangers and cautions of oil patch catastrophes have been ignored. No change in the status quo is envisioned or even tolerated. Officialdom has decreed that a political solution required more offshore drilling; there shall be no disagreement with this settled wisdom of our betters.

The cognitive dissonance
of the political elites is a depressing thing to see. What is even worse is that this willful ignorance of the facts on the ground is shared by a well organized and committed cohort of the Right Wing faithful.

For these people there is no global warming, there is no acidification of the oceans, there are no dangers to off-shore drilling. For these people there are only simplistic solutions and absolutely no need for sacrifice or behavior change. For them there remains a God-given right for a nation that has two percent of the known oil reserves to consume twenty five percent of the world's oil. For them there is still the notion of domestic oil, when the reality is of a global resource. For them there is only the magical thinking that we can drill ourselves out of the energy pinch we find ourselves in. Drill here, drill now, and all our problems will be solved. There is no down-side to drilling, or it is only minor. Pay no attention to the ever widening dead zone being created by the Deep Water Horizon spill. Pay no attention to the ecological suicide we are now engaged in. Pay no attention to the wars and killings that are required to maintain these fictions. Pay no attention to the cancers, the birth defects and the random explosions of the refineries. There is no down side to our oil dependence, there is no down side to coal, there is no down side to nuclear power. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.