BP Gulf Spill Forces Us to Confront Our Oil Addiction

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the seemingly never-ending, ever-worsening BP oil spill ravaging the Gulf of Mexico.  Right now all eyes are on President Obama to rescue us from the disaster, but no easy fix appears likely.  The only real solution is to break our addiction to oil.  If the President does nothing else other than force Americans to confront that reality, he’ll have done his job. 

It appears that President Obama does indeed get it, as he remarked today:  "The spill in the Gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources."  He went on to declare climate change a "threat to our way of life" and called on Congress to pass a clean energy bill this year.

While the focus now is on disaster response and cleanup, soon it should move to one about oil in our economy.  The fact is that oil pervades every single thing we do in the modern age.  Despite the risks and unavoidable calamities of offshore drilling, the prevailing view is that we have no choice but to do it – here in the U.S. and all over the world.  Ultimately, the issue is not how to more safely drill for oil but how best to break this addiction and move beyond oil for our energy needs.

The unfolding disaster in the Gulf begs the question: Have we reached the end of the oil age?  As noted in the Post Carbon Institute's blog

The cheap, easy petroleum is gone; from now on, we will pay steadily more and more for what we put in our gas tanks—more not just in dollars, but in lives and health, in a failed foreign policy that spawns foreign wars and military occupations, and in the lost integrity of the biological systems that sustain life on this planet.

In The Age of Tough Oil, it makes no sense to wait for resource depletion and economic and environmental bankruptcy to force us to do what we should do proactively and soon: end our dependence on oil.  

Everybody knows we must do this.  

"We all know the price we pay as a country," President Obama also said today. "With the increased risks and increased costs, it gives you a sense of where we're going.  We're not going got be able to sustain this kind of fossil fuel use.  This planet can't sustain it."

He added -- rightly -- that America's oil addiction is not only a national security and economic threat, but also sets the nation at a global competitive disadvantage.  The nation that leads the clean energy economy is the one that will lead the global economy, he said.

Indeed, it is time for America to launch a "new energy quest", as New York Times blogger Andy Revkin calls it -- a once-in-a-generation opportunity that harkens back to President John F. Kennedy's fabled space race.  As Revkin writes:

Politicians are usually most comfortable hewing to public demands.  But Kennedy wasn’t responding to public clamor for a Moon shot.  He was setting an agenda for a new age.  He wasn’t implying the journey would be easy, or even certain.  But he did say there was strong evidence it would lead to great breakthroughs in technology and knowledge.

Although the cold war may have made it easier for Kennedy to sell his dreams of the moon landing than Obama's push for a clean energy economy.  Nonetheless, Revkin argues that "there is every reason to think that a contemporary president could articulate how this remarkable juncture in human history, as infinite aspirations butt up against planetary limits, can be met with a grand, sustained effort."

So there you have it.  We know the problem.  Now we face a choice.  We either let this oil addiction destroy us or we overcome it.  Now is the moment for all of our elected leaders and fellow citizens to make this our highest priority as a nation.