Short of actually sticking the president into the gushing hole in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m not clear what exactly people expect Obama to do right now. This is a public relations fiasco that is as unprecedented as it is unwinnable and the response to his response has been puzzling to say the least.
Republicans accuse Obama of taking advantage of the spill to push renewable energy and clean technology. Um, OK. Democrats are lining up to accuse Obama of not emoting enough on television. I see. One can only surmise the proper reaction then would be to demand greater dependence upon fossil fuels during a nationally televised address where the president breaks out his hanky and furiously mops his brow while channeling his inner Jimmy Swaggart.
Pleasing pundits and demagogues isn’t of primary concern at the moment. The bigger issue is maintaining control of the situation and instilling confidence in the public. For this, Obama has the wisdom of “W” to rely upon. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush was excoriated for not visiting the hurricane-ravaged region sooner. Thus, President Obama has visited the region three times already and locals are furious his motorcade is gumming up the works and the public is charging him with seeking Clinton-esque photo opportunities on the beach.
That leaves us with the working men and women who rely on the Gulf for their livelihoods. Here again, a PR non-starter. On one side are representatives from the fishing industry lambasting the administration for not holding BP’s feet to the fire in processing claims immediately. On the other is the oil industry—incensed over Obama’s six-month moratorium on off-shore deep-water exploration—claiming the penalty for companies in good standing is too harsh and negatively impacting workers in the industry.
One can only imagine the prevailing sentiment in the Exxon Mobil board room is “there but for the grace of God…”
Ultimately the only issue I have with the president’s handling of the spill is in his characterizing it as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” This is a hollow proclamation that examines the spill in a vacuum. The worst disaster is our pernicious environmental policy agenda that allows ignominious corporations to reap enormous profits from our insatiable consumerism that is fueled by other less tangible, but wholly calculated corporate misdeeds such as planned obsolescence and the rise of industrial agriculture.
Thirty years ago the IXTOC I well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and proceeded to pour approximately 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. It took eight months to cap the leak. The immediate effects on the fishing industry and wildlife from a spill this size are devastating. However, the long-term effects of an oil spill of this magnitude are reported, even by environmentalists, to be rather benign. That is to say, oil is a natural ingredient of Earth and over time it will break down and return again to its original form. None of this is any consolation in a situation that is as maddening as it is sickening.
In practice, our reckless pursuit of fossil fuels is less sustainable for humans than Earth. The great Chief and Faithkeeper of Onondaga, Oren Lyons, says it best: “Whatever happens to us will not have any impact on the world. In time, the world will regenerate. It will come back green, and the waters will be clean again. It’s just that there won’t be any people here.”
And there it is. Suicide by consumption.
What we require in the interest of self-preservation is leadership that demands investment, not into “bridge fuels” like natural gas exploration and inefficient ocean-based wind turbines, but into a massive micro-level renewable energy plan that can be easily adopted by the states. Renewable energy technology on a micro level is more portable and easily funded than quixotic pursuits of windmills and the folly of “clean” coal and “safe” nuclear power. The effort must begin at the top but be decentralized enough to allow the states to administer a plan to simultaneously curb consumption and reward conservation through economic incentives, thereby sparking a global manufacturing race.
Unfortunately, this agenda is neither sexy nor easily explained, but it can be inspired and effective. Either way, this recipe for environmental and energy independence success is a political recipe for disaster.
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