Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oil and Coal

"BP has already spent an estimated $760 million in fighting the spill"

"BP on Wednesday said it had paid more than $32 million so far to settle claims from people and businesses in the Gulf Coast states harmed by the disaster. A company spokesman, John Curry, said BP had paid out $19.7 million in Louisiana alone through Tuesday."

Why should I give a damn? With somewhere between 180,000 and 3.5 million barrels of their oil now either suspended in the Gulf of Mexico or washing ashore, am I supposed to feel sorry for them? I've not looked for guidance concerning BP's next quarterly performance, but if it's comparable to 2010 Q1 then $760 million over 36 days means they're still making a profit. The company is so large that they can actually afford to eat a catastrophe like this without experiencing an operating loss. This makes me sick.

For several centuries now we've been pulling up oil and coal from the ground and burning it to make our lives easier. In earlier days the byproducts from this process served to darken skies and blacken lungs when performed on an industrial scale, and in some places it still does. But even where the skies are now clear, the carbon that's contained in these hydrocarbons is released into the atmosphere and acts as a thick thermal blanket over the Earth's surface. 

We've learned a fair bit over those centuries. Air pollution can be toxic, mineral extraction is a dangerous and dirty process, carbon dioxide blankets serve to heat up the planet, there is a finite supply of fossil fuels. Economically, we know that the true costs of oil and coal are not captured when the medical, social, political, and environmental effects are not fully accounted for. These externalities distort the relative position of these products in the marketplace.

We've also learned that energy from the sun can be converted to useful work, and that the Earth absorbs enough solar energy on a daily basis to power the world's existing energy demand more than 7,000x over. We've developed means of harnessing that solar energy that are net positive when all resource and manufacturing costs are accounted for. And we know that the environmental impact of these technologies is minimal relative to fossil fuel production and use, and with further research even that can be minimized.

7 of the top 10 largest companies in the world in 2009 were Oil and Gas producers, with combined profits of over $117 billion, and combined revenues of nearly $2 trillion. To say that they are a large, entrenched, and powerful interest group is to put it mildly. 

We as a nation, and as the human race, need to focus long-term on our energy policy direction. We need to accelerate our movement away from an Oil and Coal-powered world. And we need to do so even when there aren't environmental travesties getting front page coverage. 


Anonymous said...

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SierraTangoWhiskey said...

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