The New Republic: The Crisis Comes Ashore

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A dead fish in Lafourche Parish i i

hide captionA dead fish is seen on the beach on May 10, 2010 in Lafourche Parish, LA. It is unknown how the fish died. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP is leaking an estimated rate of 1,000-5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf and the slick has now reached nearby land.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A dead fish in Lafourche Parish

A dead fish is seen on the beach on May 10, 2010 in Lafourche Parish, LA. It is unknown how the fish died. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP is leaking an estimated rate of 1,000-5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf and the slick has now reached nearby land.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The continuing undersea gusher of oil 50 miles off the shores of Louisiana is not the only source of dangerous uncontrolled pollution spewing into the environment. Worldwide, the amount of man-made CO2 being spilled every three seconds into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet equals the highest current estimate of the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo well every day. Indeed, the average American coal-fired power generating plant gushes more than three times as much global-warming pollution into the atmosphere each day — and there are over 1,400 of them.

Just as the oil companies told us that deep-water drilling was safe, they tell us that it's perfectly all right to dump 90 million tons of CO2 into the air of the world every 24 hours. Even as the oil spill continues to grow — even as BP warns that the flow could increase multi-fold, to 60,000 barrels per day, and that it may continue for months — the head of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, says, "Nothing has changed. When we get back to the politics of energy, oil and natural gas are essential to the economy and our way of life." His reaction reminds me of the day Elvis Presley died. Upon hearing the tragic news, Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, said, "This changes nothing."

However, both the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the CO2 spill into the global atmosphere are causing profound and harmful changes — directly and indirectly. The oil is having a direct impact on fish, shellfish, turtles, seabirds, coral reefs, marshes, and the entire web of life in the Gulf Coast. The indirect effects include the loss of jobs in the fishing and tourism industries; the destruction of the health, vitality, and rich culture of communities in the region; imminent bankruptcies; vast environmental damage expected to persist for decades; and the disruption of seafood markets nationwide.

And, of course, the consequences of our ravenous consumption of oil are even larger. Starting 40 years ago, when America's domestic oil production peaked, our dependence on foreign oil has steadily grown. We are now draining our economy of several hundred billion dollars a year in order to purchase foreign oil in a global market dominated by the huge reserves owned by sovereign states in the Persian Gulf. This enormous and increasing transfer of wealth contributes heavily to our trade and current-account deficits, and enriches regimes in the most unstable region of the world, helping to finance both terrorism and Iran’s relentless effort to build a nuclear arsenal.

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