Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama's Oval Office Speech

Can be viewed here.

In all, I can't say I was impressed.  For me, this was a lost opportunity, a chance to go big, and ask the American people to rise to the historical occasion in a meaningful way.  Which, frankly, he didn't.  Far as I could tell, his grand call to arms was sort-of kind-of urging the Senate to pass the Climate and Energy bill that passed in the House a few months ago.  Oh, and to pray.

As somebody said in the comment thread at the Washington Monthly (and I'm paraphrasing here), when the President tells the American people to pray, we are well and truly f-cked.

Here's what I would have liked to have seen:

Connecting the dots more explicitly:  Why did the spill happen?  One word:  deregulation.  Ever since  the Reagan era, it's been an article of faith that government should just get out of the way and let business do its thing.  And it is an article of faith, because even a cursory examination of the evidence shows pretty conclusively that without strong government oversight, industry and finance will happily take the economy and the environment over the cliff for a few extra bucks (cf. the housing bubble and the ensuing world financial meltdown, the Gulf oil spill, Enron, Worldcom, the California Energy Crisis, etc, etc, etc).

References to a failed governing philosophy and the corruption of the Minerals Management Service in the previous Administration are pretty weak tea, compared to the scope of the consequences.

A more robust plan for cleaning up the oil:  Commissioning commissions and directing BP to move resources that should've been onsite weeks ago are great, and asking Stephen Chu and the former Secretary of the Navy to put together plans to cap the spill and 'revitalize the Gulf Coast' or whatever are also nice, but what I want to know is how exactly is the rest of the 35 million plus gallons of oil that have geysered out of the ocean floor and into the world's oceans (and it's not just gonna stay in the Gulf of Mexico either) going to be cleaned up?  Is there a plan to dredge it up?  Are we tracking where the massive miles-long by miles-wide plumes below the surface?

Don't get me wrong.  I think it's great that we're working on capping the leak, and that if all else fails the relief well will be finished in August, which ought to take care of the oil that's coming out, but where's the plan to deal with the oil that's already escaped?  They've had almost two months now.  Surely they've got something?

Regulations with teeth going forward:  How will we stop this from happening again?  Will we require relief wells to be drilled in advance?  Will MMS staff up and grow a pair and start actually inspecting these deepwater rigs?  Will we reconsider whether we really ought to be drilling oil a mile below the surface of the ocean?  And if we do decide that we have to keep doing that, what safeguards will we require be in place to absolutely gurantee that this isn't going to happen ever again?  Because if we leave it up to the giant capitalist enterprises that make up the oil industry, it will happen again.  And again.  And again.

And, most important of all..,

Facing square-on the fact that we cannot continue as we have:  Let's be honest, oil's been good to us.  It's allowed us to build the world that we live in, to grow enough food to feed billions of people, to keep them warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and move them and the things they want and need from place to place with unprecedented and amazing ease.  Unfortunately, it's also polluted the environment, melted the polar ice caps, raised ocean levels worldwide, fomented death and destruction in Africa and the Middle East, propped up dictators and despots of all stripes, and created a sense of national entitlement in these United States that is, frankly, kind of disgusting.  We've become a nation of spoiled children, of petroleum addicts who can see that our addiction is destroying ourselves and our lives, but unwilling to make the hard choices and do the difficult things to break the cycle.

There are a lot of suggestions as to what to do about this, some of which President Obama enumerated in his speech:  a clean energy Apollo Program; improvements in fuel efficiency, not only in our vehicles but in our buildings as well (something like 15% of our petroleum consumption goes to heating and air conditioning buildings); more wind turbines and solar panels; smart electrical grids that use power more efficiently; improvements to our national rail infrastructure; more mass transit; cap and trade; a carbon tax; eating less meat and more locally-grown food; installing energy efficient applicances and better insulation and windows in housing; and more, so many more that to try and list them all would take the rest of the night and more patience than I've got at the moment.

We need to do all of it, starting yesterday.  We need to figure out ways to use less energy, and to generate it more cleanly.  We can go a long way just with what we know now, if we can manifest the will to do so.  And yes, we do need to develop more and better ways of doing it in the future.  We need to spend some Research and Development dollars to discover even better, cleaner, more efficient ways to meet our needs.

But what we need most of all, and what I most wanted to hear tonight, is to realize that we can no longer continue on the path we are on.  The oil is almost all gone already.  Why do you think we're drilling in the deep waters forty miles off the coast of Louisiana?  Because we already drilled up all the easy oil.  There ain't none left.  And who knows?  There may not be that much left in all these hard-to-get-to places.

But one thing's for sure, if we don't start now, the Gulf Oil Spill won't be the last catastrophe we deal with.  Or even the worst.

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