Is this time for an Oil Intervention?
Josh Wise CIELAP Intern
June 17, 2010
“People just want to go on doing what they’re doing. They want business as usual. They say, ‘Oh yes, there’s going to be a problem up ahead,’ but they don’t want to change anything”
– James Lovelock (Carbon Shift, 2009)
The disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has provided a stark reminder of the lengths our society will go in order to feed our addiction to oil. The destruction caused by this spill should provide a reminder of the true environmental and social costs of oil extraction. The age of inexpensive, easily accessible and (relatively) clean oil extraction has come and gone. In order to meet the ever-increasing demand for energy we have drilled into our oceans, mined virgin ecosystems, and shipped oil halfway around the world and back. This practice has countless ecological and societal implications, which are most often overlooked and externalized.
In spite of numerous calls for change over the past decades, society remains dependant on oil and fossil fuels for its material basis and primary energy source. We must begin to rid ourselves of this dependence and use this disaster as motivation to prepare for a future with less access to petroleum based oil.
The Hubbert Peak Oil Theory –that petroleum supply will decline due to resource depletion– is beginning to come to fruition as new oil discoveries dwindle and extraction increases. Conventionally sourced oil has already peaked in North America with all new discoveries coming in the forms of tar sands and deepwater extraction.
The environmental and social consequences of these extraction methods are being felt throughout the Gulf Coast and Northern Alberta. Both have created enormous regions of contaminated ecosystems and poisoned local indigenous and societal groups; all in the name of short-term economic gains.
Our dependence on this finite resource is changing our climate, initiating wars, and destroying ecosystems. The impacts are being felt at all stages of the resource’s lifecycle, from extraction to consumption. It is time to truly address the need for alternatives.
The search for alternatives has resulted in two major schools of thought: techno-centric ideas, like Green Chemistry, including measures such as oil extraction from Micro-Algae, and theories on low-energy living that aim to reform societal expectations of growth. While approaching the issue from very different perspectives, both schools look to bring greater balance to the ecological, social and economic bottom lines. Maintaining this balance would ensure the true costs of oil extraction are understood and reflected in the financial price to the consumer.
This is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted solution. Our petroleum dependence is ingrained in our current unsustainable lifestyle and like any other addiction it will be difficult to kick the habit. The sustainability movement looks to help free us of this addiction through balanced living. This will involve a combination of techno-centric solutions and societal reforms.
This issue can only be addressed through strong leadership in governance, transparency within industry and awareness in civil society. The responsibility must be shared in order for positive change to occur. The reduction of oil dependence is a major step towards sustainable living where all dimensions of the triple bottom line are equally addressed.
CIELAP looks to advance sustainability ideas in order to help initiate a positive future where the economic, social and environmental bottom lines are in harmony.
Links to recent articles/blogs approaching this subject: