Skip to main content

By Bill McKibben

[I am posting this diary because Bill McKibben is right now giving a speech and unable to post it himself - MB.]

The question to ask about the spill in the Gulf is: are we dealing with a one-off accident, a mistake, a bug? Or is it environmental destruction really the essential business model of the fossil fuel industry?

If the answer is bug, then we need to concentrate on one kind of solution: better regulations to make sure oil wells don’t leak, and that if they do companies pay for the damage. And we surely need to do that—it’s a no-brainer (which unfortunately doesn’t preclude the fact that the Congress may not do it. We need a new word for something any other human institution would automatically do, but the Senate will punt). It’s basically straightforward, the kind of thing technologically sophisticated societies are good at.

But what if the BP spill is just one tiny part of the daily ongoing destruction that comes from the fossil fuel business? That’s my contention.

For one thing, consider what the business has become: because we’ve found the easy oil, by definition every well is harder to drill and riskier to run than the last one. BP is a mile down in a gulf; they’ll have to go deeper still to exploit the last big find, the "pre-salt" formations off Brazil. There’s limits to how safe any of this is.

But of course the much bigger problem is what happens if you get that oil safely ashore and burn it. The Onion, as usual, captured the true dimensions of this problem better than the rest of the media. Here’s the way to think about it: if oil doesn’t wreck the Gulf, then the global warming it causes wrecks Russia, and Pakistan. If coal doesn’t kill miners, then the heat and acid it produces wrecks the ocean—check out the scariest piece of news from a scary summer, the Nature study demonstrating that warmer ocean temperatures have cut the abundance of plankton in half. Not Good News.

Here’s another way of putting it. If BP doesn’t use the Gulf of Mexico as an open sewer, it will use the atmosphere as an open sewer. That is its business model—ditto Exxon, and Duke Energy, and Massey Coal. Because they get to use the atmosphere for free, they’re privatizing the profits and socializing the costs (sort of, come to think of it, like the bailed-out banks). A new analysis at the always estimable TomDispatch convincingly shows that if they paid the costs associated with their products, they would go from the most profitable corporations on earth to operating deeply in the red.

And it follows from this that if we’re going to actually do anything about these problems we’ll have to actually confront the power of fossil fuel and break it. Yes, they’ll fight new regulations on oil drilling, but eventually they’ll give in because it’s not That Much Money. A new business plan? That’s different. Exxon made $40 billion last year using the current model: that’s more money than any company’s made in the history of money. So my guess is they’ll fight.

In fact, it’s not even a guess. That’s why the Senate demurred on even the tamest climate legislation in the spring—the utilities couldn’t deal with even a teensy cost on carbon, never mind a real one.

The only way we’ll get it is to build a movement. That’s a lot of work, but the work is underway, and it needs your help. Last October, at, we coordinated 5200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called ‘the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.’ It was good, but not good enough—siz weeks later, at Copenhagen, we got 117 nations to sign on to a 350 ppm target for co2. But they were the wrong 117, the poor ones.

So we’re back at work, aiming for bigger and stronger. Next chance: 10-10-10, a Global Work Party organized with many different groups. In thousands of places around the world people will be putting up solar panels or laying out bike paths. And they’ll be using it as an occasion to say, pointedly, to their political leaders: We’re getting to work—what about you?  Register an action here.

That’s not all we’re going to need to do, of course—before next summer rolls around, some of us are going to have to be in jail, and lots of us are going to have to be in the streets. We’re planning as fast as we can.

But for now, what’s key is to be clear about the essential problem. The BP spill was a great tragedy, and we must make amends to the people who suffered. But fossil fuel every single day of every single week is a great tragedy. Even when you can’t capture it on a robocam.

Gulf Recovery Blogathon Calendar (All times Pacific)

Wednesday August 11

1pm  noweasels

2pm  boatsie

3pm  Daniel Kessler (Greenpeace)

4pm  mogmaar

5pm  Patriot Daily

6pm  Project Gulf Impact

Thursday August 12

1pm  pico

2pm  Fishgrease

3pm  citisven

4pm  Bill Mckibben

5pm  oke

6pm  Project Gulf Impact

7pm  JekyllnHyde

Friday August 13

1pm  La Feminista

2pm  Pam La Pier

3pm  rb137

4pm  Meteor Blades

5pm  Laurence Lewis

6pm  Project Gulf Impact

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Aug 12, 2010 at 04:10 PM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Pat K California, claude, Tookish, JekyllnHyde, Ed in Montana, cdreid, buffalo soldier, Terri, northsylvania, Bill in Portland Maine, teacherken, Marie, GOTV, El Zmuenga, glitterscale, Geenius at Wrok, Nina Katarina, Rolfyboy6, TrueBlueMajority, Powered Grace, mattman, emal, PeterHug, RunawayRose, alicia, Shockwave, Fishgrease, Wintermute, mlharges, eeff, Mnemosyne, rubyr, x, Voodoo, lawnorder, shpilk, Walt starr, mataliandy, expatjourno, silence, Heart of the Rockies, agoldnyc, nicki37, bronte17, conchita, susakinovember, Agathena, bluesteel, Pithy Cherub, stevej, cosmic debris, Larry Bailey, ctsteve, Eddie C, wader, NMRed, Oke, TexDem, CitizenOfEarth, Lawrence, texasmom, BMarshall, dwahzon, Chirons apprentice, Steven Payne, betson08, kalmoth, side pocket, mungley, JayDean, DarkSyde, lyvwyr101, Pam LaPier, thereisnospoon, environmentalist, oortdust, Julie Gulden, Big Tex, joanneleon, Fabian, Bluesee, marina, 3goldens, NoMoreLies, tle, blueyedace2, subtropolis, democracy inaction, ccasas, Simplify, truong son traveler, citizenx, snacksandpop, Brooke In Seattle, YucatanMan, trinityfly, Laurence Lewis, reflectionsv37, FutureNow, Pam from Calif, jimstaro, LABobsterofAnaheim, Burned, sofia, Phil S 33, Sandino, coolbreeze, LivesInAShoe, Detroit Mark, JanL, JanF, Snud, noweasels, maryru, begone, reddbierd, martini, Knucklehead, pico, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, vigilant meerkat, BlueInARedState, HoundDog, Gorette, KenBee, akasha, fou, luckydog, Lefty Coaster, blueoasis, DarkestHour, global citizen, 4Freedom, gpoutney, bubbanomics, Libby Shaw, SadieSue, JVolvo, bleeding heart, boatsie, Demena, Unitary Moonbat, doinaheckuvanutjob, SingerInTheChoir, ilyana, JugOPunch, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, Dreaming of Better Days, blueoregon, CharlieHipHop, Picot verde, Friend of the court, Hedwig, Damn Frank, Nulwee, BentLiberal, One Pissed Off Liberal, lightfoot, camlbacker, possum, ninkasi23, moodyinsavannah, BruceMcF, FishOutofWater, yowsta, chigh, hold tight, Jimdotz, ilex, DWG, joyful, newpioneer, millwood, gchaucer2, OIL GUY, uciguy30, Got a Grip, JML9999, Zydekos, Spedwybabs, Hens Teeth, TomP, alba, gizmo59, VA Breeze, jwinIL14, MKinTN, davidseth, Mr SeeMore, TheFatLadySings, rontun, mamamedusa, Senor Unoball, bythesea, cumberland sibyl, ajr111240, lineatus, Mother of Zeus, VL Baker, jamess, geomoo, bluesheep, TokenLiberal, temptxan, luckylizard, doppler effect, allie123, priceman, Quilldriver, marketgeek, Ellinorianne, In her own Voice, Mike Taylor, LaFeminista, maggiejean, 1BQ, cybrestrike, DeepLooker, ALifeLessFrightening, greengemini, An Affirming Flame, cantelow, bsmechanic, Kairos, Partisan Progressive, mogmaar, mississippi boatrat, DefendOurConstitution, John Shade, asym, soms, ArthurPoet, jfromga, citisven, Larsstephens, littlezen, rb137, p gorden lippy, drache, miss SPED, LaughingPlanet, pdx kirk, psfinla, politik, blueyescryinintherain, marsanges, jethrock, Interceptor7, CcVenussPromise, ItsSimpleSimon, SoCalHobbit, Yasuragi, addisnana, elengul, Otteray Scribe, indubitably, Pakalolo, heart of a quince, Hopeful Skeptic, MaryinHammondsport, BlueJessamine, BlackQueen40, Eclectablog, soothsayer99, FarWestGirl, KelleyRN2, princesspat, Ebby, gongee, Cinnamon Rollover, dle2GA, muddy boots, merrily1000, dakinishir, worldlotus, Vtdblue, corvaire, Wom Bat, Anthony Page aka SecondComing, zenox, Ezekial 23 20, StepLeftStepForward, Patric Juillet, ridemybike, ursoklevar, damfino, Aji, Siri, passionateprotagonist, Celtic Pugilist, RonWelchjr, readerwriter

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site