The tragic Gulf of Mexico oil spill reminds us once again of the hazards of a fossil fuel based economy and the need to build more sustainable communities.
The current oil spill has brought on environmental, economic, and health challenges that could have been prevented if the U.S. had been willing to make the shift to sustainability years ago.
What we are faced with now includes:
- degradation of large amounts of wetlands, mutation, deformity, death of fish and wildlife, and destruction of many fragile ecosystems.
- potential catastrophic economic losses to the fishing and tourism industry. The damages to the fishing industry alone could amount to tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Tourism on the Gulf Coast is a multi-billion dollar industry with hundreds of thousands of employees whose jobs may be at stake.
- potential economic damages to Gulf Coast ports that transfer over a million tons of trade cargo per year.
- health risks to humans from the toxic effects of oil that according to Physicians for Social Responsibility include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the eyes, and difficulty breathing. (see http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/confronting-toxics/blog/a-toxic-brew-in-the-gulf-of-mexico.html)
- potential long term effects to the food supply where the contaminates from the oil can cause elevated cancer risks for decades. Louisiana says that there are over 400 species of oysters, shrimp, and fish that depend on the area the oil spill is impacting.
- risks from chemical dispersants that are poisons used from the belief that they can’t be worse than the oil itself. The ingredients of these dispersants are claimed as “proprietary information” by Nalco the Company that makes Corexit the main dispersant being used in the Gulf of Mexico. The impact of these dispersants on fish and shellfish and the ocean ecosystems are largely unknown.
As catastrophic as the Gulf oil spill is, it may be in a larger perspective just a small glimpse into the future of what may be coming if the U.S. does not address its oil addiction and the pressing issues of climate change and ocean acidification.
The U.S. has wasted the past decade when its international leadership was needed to address the global challenge of moving the world toward sustainability.
Senate Bill 1733, the Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act proposed by Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Joe Liberman is at best is a small and weak start. While the bill has many good features it is not near enough to get the U.S. economy off its dependence on foreign oil and reduce carbon emissions to meaningful levels to address climate change and ocean acidification threats.
A few years ago the World Business Academy publication “Freedom From Mid-East Oil” outlined a blue print for a more sustainable energy policy to (see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/energy-and-environment)
In the plan the World Business Academy noted what needs to be done including:
- increase the CAFE Standards to a minimum of 40 MPG
- accelerate the use of plug in electric and plug in hybrid vehicles to a million per year along with 100,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
- increasing our electricity production from renewables to at least 20% of total.
- improve energy efficiency as the cheapest source of energy.
- raise the price of carbon so there are meaningful incentives to make the transition off oil to renewable technologies more quickly.
These simple strategies would eliminate the need for new nuclear power plants and off shore drilling for oil while creating thousands of new jobs, reduce the balance of trade deficit, and reduce the national debt.
It has been argued that while the World Business Academy makes both economic and environmental sense, that our U.S. Senate has to follow a mediocre plan due to their ties to big oil.
Leadership on behalf of humanity and other living creatures is needed now. Planet Earth can not wait for the U.S. Senate to be ready to respond to a crisis.
The Obama administration along with leadership in State and Local governments is going to have to take initiatives with or without the U.S. Senate support.
Fortunately there are many excellent blue prints for how State and Local governments can act independent of the U.S. Government. Both Green and Blue Community initiatives provide an abundance of strategies that state and local governments can act upon. (see two examples at: http://greencities.com and http://www.wavesofchange.org/topics/view/17903)
At the same time, the Obama administration can use the regulatory power of the EPA to address climate change and can push for regulatory reform to hold both oil and chemical companies more accountable for incidents like the Gulf oil spill.
It is time for real political leadership to take a stand on behalf of both present and future generations. It is time that political leadership be willing to take stands such as Senator Bill Nelson has done against off shore drilling. It is time that political leadership put first the health safety and environment over that of short term corporate profits especially with the consequences of climate change, ocean acidification, and other challenges before us. We can not waste another decade. There really is no other choice. The time to create more sustainable communities is now.