Apocalypse now

The environmental tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico is ongoing and sad. To listen to some pundits you would think it was the end of the world. It’s not.

More important, many of these pundits are using the tragedy to advance an ongoing hate-oil-companies, anti-free-market agenda that could result in environmental tragedies far worse then the Gulf oil spill. Rather than spending so much time and energy on finding someone to blame I think we should concentrate on cleaning up the mess as best we can and getting on with the job of finding new sources of energy to power our 21st century world.

By new sources of energy I do mean solar, nuclear, fusion, hydro, geothermal, whatever. But I also mean new fossil fuel discoveries including domestic sources of oil and natural gas. And yes, all of these fossil fuel quests will no doubt mean more “drill-baby-drill.”

If you want to consider what everyday life would be like without oil and gas (and without free-market capitalism) you should read: AD 1000: Living on the Brink of Apocalypse (Harper & Row, 1988) by Richard Erdoes. In those feudal “green” pre-industrial, pre-fossil fuels and pre-capitalist days, if you were rich enough to live in a castle (99% percent of the people were not) here is what life would be like without oil and gas.

“Lords might be powerful, but they were seldom comfortable. The castle’s heart was the great dining hall, its floor covered with straw or rushes. Bones and scraps from the long trestle table were simply thrown upon the floor and eagerly snapped up by the ever-present snarling dogs, who generously supplied fleas to both high and lowborn. Whenever the rushes began to stink of rotting scraps and dog droppings and so ‘full of vermin that they seemed to move by themselves,’ they were thrown out and replaced by fresh ones, on special occasions by sweet-smelling grasses.

“The typical castle was dark and dank. Windows were mere slits covered by parchment or small slabs of horn, as glass panes had not yet come into use. Rooms were consequently very drafty, and rheumatism was the common lot of the suffering tenants. In winter, people either fried by roasting their backsides at the fire or shivered if at a distance from the chimney place. Smoke, soot, and cinders found their way into inflamed eyes. Castles were insufficiently lighted by torches or pine slivers dipped in resin. Only the richest barons and prelates could afford candles. It was no wonder poets waxed ecstatic singing of the coming spring and the fading winter.

“People relieved themselves wherever and whenever they could, and crude scatological jokes were part of the table talk. Furnishings were spare. The residents’ few possessions were kept in a chest, sometimes covered with a pillow, which also served as a seat. Tables often were just boards laid over trestles. Long benches seated the guests, and always there was a special high seat for the lord and master at the head of the table.”

Besides the discomforts, if you were really lucky (and really rich) you might live to be as old as 40. But not without suffering and recovering slowly from nasty diseases like smallpox, bubonic plague, typhoid, cholera and pneumonia that killed your brothers, sisters, children and parents many years before.

Instead of piling on we should be thanking BP, Exxon-Mobil, Shell and the other giant oil companies and their hundreds of thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers for their difficult and almost-all-of-the-time successful work in bringing this precious fuel up from the depths of sea and land to support our civilization. And when inevitable freak accidents happen rather then threatening them with criminal prosecution we should at a minimum be sparing with criticism and condemnation. BP did not do this on purpose. They have taken responsibility and are doing their best to minimize the damage. How many can say as much?

To repeat the obvious, our civilization desperately needs oil and gas to survive and it will need more oil and gas for quite a few decades to come before new and cleaner sources of energy can be discovered, marketed and adopted by any significant portion of humankind. Banning drilling (or crippling it with still more bureaucratic regulations) in the Gulf, in Alaska or in the continental U.S. and Canada will not be helpful. All it will do is increase our dependence on oil from places like Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Besides exporting our cash and pollution risks to these not very friendly countries, we will be forced to depend on shipments in ever larger tankers where the risks of disastrous spills will be as great, probably greater, than the risks of drilling in deep water.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you want to know more about the change from feudal zero-sum economies and societies see our program THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, CAPITALISM AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  Or the new releases RESOURCES, POPULATIONS AND CLIMATE CHANGE and ENERGY AND SOCIETY.

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