Will the oil spill have the same impact on the US psyche as 9/11?

I have not really kept up to speed with what the media are saying about the Deepwater Horizon incident as I know how bad oil spills are – I don’t need to see images of oiled wildlife breathing their last and it’s kinda obvious what impact this will be having on fishing in the area. But it has also raised a lot of ‘peak oil-type’ comments – from the reasonable to the ridiculous.
At the ‘ridiculous’ end of the spectrum is an article saying that “the BP disaster should put an end to the widely disseminated “peak oil” theory that says the Earth is running out of oil”. As readers know, peak oil is not about “running out of oil”. But this article is in Canada Free Press, whose strapline is “…because without America there is no Free World”. If that wasn’t indication enough of their mindset, the article goes on to promote the abiotic oil formation theory, which says that oil is formed in the Earth’s magma and migrates to the surface. This view is not widely accepted by geologists but it’s a good bit of peak oil denial.
Now there have been links made to 9/11. To answer the question in the title, “yes, it will” in that both 9/11 and Deepwater Horizon have shattered some firmly held beliefs: 1) that no one hates America enough to fly planes into buildings and 2) that technology will save the day. No one likes having their reality questioned, especially by events rather than more easily deniable opinions. The events in the Gulf of Mexico hammer home the fact that most (conventional) oil left is in hard-to-reach places, such as beneath miles of ocean and rock or beneath the Arctic. More energy in. Obama has said “the ongoing oil spill would change the way the US thinks about energy forever” – I’m sure it will but how will the US think about energy in future? Not in terms of net energy, methinks.
And the Deepwater incident has ramifications closer to home. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne pointed out that ”with the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, we must be vigilant.” Initial steps are apparently already under way, including the doubling of annual environmental inspections of drilling rigs. Doubling? Twice a year? I doubt that would have prevented the Deepwater disaster, which seems to be due to corners being cut on safety (this interview with rig survivors is well worth a watch) – only to be expected as we cling to need for oil at any cost. There’s an old adage used by some oilmen – you can do it right or you can do it cheap but not both. In the case of oil and indeed all the fossil fuels, the right thing to do is leave it in the ground but I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet – we’re still deeply in denial over the problem.

About The Cheery Pessimist

Waiting for some sign that we will change our ways before it all comes tumbling down...still, you've got to laugh
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7 Responses to Will the oil spill have the same impact on the US psyche as 9/11?

  1. Teen says:

    It’s interesting to look at the news coverage on Obama’s Oval office speech to get a feel for what’s being taken from it.
    He said: “For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candour.
    “The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.
    “We cannot consign our children to this future.”
    I don’t know about the China reference there, but to my mind these lines form a pretty plain statement which would have been unimaginable not that long ago in the dark Dubya days.
    Wonder how many newspapers or TV stations will report this bit tho? My guess is the vast majority of the UK press will prefer to focus on the ‘BP line’ and ignore this part of the story. We’ll see what tomorrow morning’s coverage says…
    There’s no doubt ‘selective’ reporting feeds denial. For the energy issue to do any more than creep into people’s consciousness, the news agenda needs to shift.

    • mandy meikle says:

      I agree that this is not Dubya-speak but don’t forget that Jimmy Carter (Pres. 1977 – 1981) installed solar panels on the Whitehouse & Bush ripped them off (I forget which Bush!). Clearly we need to delve into the psychology of denial a bit more on this site…

  2. Margaret says:

    I’d like to hope so, but I don’t believe America will change how they live as a result of the spill.

    It would take too much for them to do it voluntarily. Too many American workers commute to work from the suburbs. They’d need to move their homes and workplaces closer or decide that public transport systems are worthwhile. That would require people to spend money. I can’t imagine American companies volunteering to pay the tax that would be needed to build – the whole basis of American politics is ‘you are on your own’ and that means individuals raising the money in jars or Obama forcing his elected officials to pass tax-raising legislation. How likely is that? Even if you convince 60 or 70% of the American voters that they need to change, that won’t be enough for the population to take control of their government.

    • mandy meikle says:

      Hey Margaret – welcome to the blog! The word ‘voluntarily’ is key – people only change their deeply held perceptions of the world voluntarily. If they are forced to change, by coercion or by simply not being able to afford the alternatives, it’s not a ‘real’ change. It’s done grudgingly and if there’s any way to revert back to the old ways, they will (e.g. black markets).

      The first peak oil film I saw was ‘The end of suburbia’, which has a lot on the design of the US and how the suburbs will be the least desirable places to stay when fuel costs rocket – unless they get redesigned now. They were designed when US planners were blinded by the cheap energy of oil. Today, we’re still working on similar designs (e.g. centralised electricity generation, out-of-town shopping centres & hospitals), yet we are much more aware of the cost of energy. What are we thinking? I’m sure we’ll come back to this subject too!

  3. Margaret says:

    Oh my! Psychology and ‘what are we thinking’ all on one day.

    I think we are being trained not to think! So, so glad I went to Uni when I did.

  4. margaret says:

    Ben Elton wrote a book years ago called Stark. I’m beginning to think he was being serious – all they need is that space ship to somewhere!

    When you look at how the Bush administration censored or re-wrote unfavourable science findings then you have to conclude it is deliberate, selfish greed. The more I find out about that family the more horrified I am. And the more I find out about the GOP and how they have been operating, the more I am impressed with their skillful use of power and money, even if it is disgusting.

    The people I’ve been listening to this week are Greg Palast and Robert F Kennedy Jr. RFK is an environmentalist and he’s teamed up with an investigative journalist who is being a real pain, thankfully. If you’ve got an hour then this one is good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du9QWpCWbbY. The point is, slowly but surely powerful people are starting to fight back. When you have the nephew of JFK taking BP to court then that is kind of difficult to keep off the news!

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