Despite the unprecedented environmental disaster that the BP Oil Spill is, the U.S. Congress is no closer to passing clean energy legislation that transitions the United States from depending on oil, which is a nonrenewable and dirty energy resource, mostly derived from hostile foreign sources, to cleaner domestic forms of energy sources that aren’t carbon intensive.
Furthermore, if we’re to continue to evolve as a modern democratic society, then we’ll need to find cleaner forms of energy that are renewable. Additionally, we must balance environmental interests with development goals, since our future well-being is intimately bound up with the availability of natural resources and an access to clean environments.
On the Net:
These images are from “James Duncan Davidson, TED’s conference photographer, [and he] is among a crew of five photographers and videographers reporting on the Gulf of Mexico for the TEDxOilSpill Expedition.” You can find more photos from the TEDxOilSpill Expedition on the Flickr page of duncandavidson, and you can follow TEDxOilSpill on Twitter or read their blog. TEDxOilSpill is also conducting a poster competition.
Oil burning on the ocean’s surface:
Oil in the marshes and islands of Barataria Bay, Louisiana:
Shrimp boats skim the ocean’s surface around Barataria Bay, Louisiana:
The Deepwater Horizon accident site showing controlled burns being conducted and ”one of two drilling rigs drilling the releif [sic] wells“:
The authors or licensors of these images do not endorse my work or me and their images are protected under an attribution license.
Here’s a collection of disturbing but oddly comical oil company advertisements from the past—some are eerily prophetic while others are blatantly misleading:
- Given the BP Oil Spill, where are all the Bay Skimmers? This 1980 Gulf Oil advertisement boasts, “I think the best $200,000 Gulf ever spent was for this seagoing vacuum cleaner.” The advertisement further professes, “That’s a lot of oil, and if any of it gets into the water, the Bay Skimmer can pick it up fast. It was tailor-made for this job. We can go right thought an oil slick, and a big belt in the bow simply lifts the oil off the water.” Currently, boats that skim oil are being used in the Gulf of Mexico to clean up the spill. See “Skimming surface, deep dedication,” “$89,000 oil skimmer headed to Louisiana via eBay,” and “More oil spill skimmer, spotter boats activated, mostly in Alabama waters.”
- Fossil-fuel companies are Earth’s antifreeze: In a 1940s advertisement for Eveready Prestone antifreeze, manufactured for the National Carbon Company, Inc., there’s a prophetic victory declared over the cold and polar bears:
- Humble Oil predicts the future in 1962 advertisement: “Each day Humble supplies enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier”
- Fish love oil: For some reason, I doubt the fish of the Gulf of Mexico need “more oil . . . more oil!” Humanity sure doesn’t need more oil. If the United States government is truly serious about energy independence (and there’s a corollary of environmental preservation that follows energy independence), then we need a commonsensical or prudent energy policy that doesn’t include fossil fuels.
- Climate Cage Change: Seriously, this 1945 Shell Oil Company advertisement does read “Climate in a Cage.”
- Nude model in 1960′s commercial for oil industry: I believe this lady does an exceptional job of capturing our blissful ignorance towards energy, the environment, and entropy.
- Oysters love oil: The oil industry created this video clip to refute claims made by Gulf fishermen that oil industry activities were destroying oyster beds. The video suggests that oysters love and even can be healed, if sick, by oil industry activities. The video also claims that the oyster’s natural conditions were recreated in the laboratory but note that the tanks do not use any aquarium circulation pump. Given the recent revelation that oil companies included the walrus as part of their Gulf of Mexico recovery plan, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that these oil industry scientists, in the video below, believe these oysters can live in these small tanks without flowing water. Otherwise, the white coats and the oysters in the fish tanks are merely smoke and mirrors. Historically, oysters have been decimated in areas where anthropogenic activities have caused poor water quality, since oysters are filter feeders. Oysters are Nature’s water filtration system, because they filter and clean water. In fact, “an adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day.” To put it another way, “the oysters in the [Chesapeake] Bay could once filter a volume of water equal to that of the entire Bay (about 19 trillion gallons) in a week. Today, it would take the remaining Bay oysters more than a year.” Furthermore, since oysters are Nature’s water filtration system, they easily pick up nasty pollutants and diseases from the water column. This video is another example of the outrageous tactics that the oil industry are willing to use in order to misinform or create doubt.
Via NBC New York
- Changes in land use over the past century—more agricultural and urban and suburban areas and fewer forested areas—have increased the amount of nutrients and sediment that enter the Bay.
- Excess nutrients fuel the growth of algae blooms that deplete oxygen in deeper waters and can hinder the development of oyster larvae.
- Oysters that are under stress from poor water quality or burial by sediment are likely more prone to disease.
- This parody illustrates the truth behind BP’s television commercials:
- Oil companies have been greenwashing with the idea of “Beyond Petroleum”—which is mere self-serving propaganda—for years. For example, this 1977 Exxon advertisement highlights the importance of solar energy and energy conservation. However, although solar energy and energy conservation have increased since the 1970s, renewable energy and energy conservation would certainly represent a higher share if both the United States government and energy companies had implemented energy policies that required and incentivized more renewable energy and conservation projects. The advertisement states that the United States’ top priority should be the development of more domestic oil and gas—despite oil and gas being fungible. Also, allowing our growing society to become so dependent on fossil fuels, which are a nonrenewable resource, raises national security concerns. Secondly, the advertisement highlights the importance of coal—despite the negative externalities associated with coal. Lastily, the advertisement states that “solar power can make a contribution.”
- These advertisements from the 1970s suggest that you can fight air pollution by burning certain petroleum products. Despite technological advances in the development of cleaner fuels and “despite America’s growing ‘green’ movement, the air in many cities [is becoming] dirtier.” Air pollution from tailpipe emissions impacts human health and the human environment by contributing to ozone pollution, global warming, pollution that damages infrastructure, and ocean acidification.
More on oysters and disease from the Maryland Department of the Environment:
Shellfish are filter-feeding organisms; they strain the surrounding water through their gills which trap and transfer food particles to their digestive tract. If the water they are housed in is contaminated with disease-causing organisms, these organisms are also trapped and consumed as food. Because shellfish pump large quantities of water through their gills each day, even low concentrations of harmful organisms from the waters can reach dangerous levels in the shellfish. If shellfish containing these organisms are eaten raw or partially cooked, illness may result.
Shellfish are bivalve mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels. [The term shellfish does not include crabs, lobsters, or shrimp.] Therefore, to protect public health, it is mandatory that shellfish be harvested from approved shellfish waters where protective standards have been met.
More on oysters and poor water quality from the Chesapeake Bay Program:
How do diseases and poor water quality affect oysters?
In addition to harvest pressure, the Bay’s oysters face a number of other challenges. One of these is disease. Since the 1950s, the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo have decimated the Bay’s remaining oyster population.
The Bay’s oysters have also been impacted by poor water quality.
Spoofs & irony:
BP or British Petroleum campaigns on the idea that BP is synonymous to “Beyond Petroleum.” However, the use of beyond petroleum to describe BP’s energy strategy and policy is contradictory or even misleading. More from Slate.com:
So what’s with this “Beyond Petroleum” stuff? BP has a huge investment in an intensively competitive commodity business. By and large, you’ll get virtually the same performance, price, and customer experience at Sunoco as you will at BP. Cars don’t develop tastes for brands of gas the way humans develop tastes for brands of soda or potato chips. Neither, by my own unscientific polling, do people. Oil retailers differentiate themselves by offering premium coffee in the stores or providing ease of payment through gizmos like Mobil’s Speedpass or, in BP’s case, by projecting a favorable brand image.
Highlighting environmentally friendly products has emerged as a popular way for retailers and consumer-product companies to strengthen bonds with discerning customers. Think Home Depot’s rainforest-free lumber, McDonald’s biodegradable Big Mac wrappers, and the entire Body Shop. Ford briefly aspired to eco-friendliness with its drive for greater fuel efficiency but canned it when the financial going got tough.
By running these ads and by doing things like powering gas pumps with electricity generated by photovoltaic cells, BP sends a message to conflicted SUV drivers—I’m one of them—who sleep better after filling the 14-mile-per-gallon Jeep from an energy-efficient pump. What’s more, it obtains what no global oil conglomerate can buy: positive coverage in the media. (The New York Times in particular seems to have a soft spot for anything that smacks of renewable energy.)
BP’s campaign inspires no small amount of cognitive dissonance. The company proudly notes that it will invest $15 billion in oil properties in the next 10 years. But while a release notes that “BP holds a leading share in the global market for photovoltaic modules, which turn sunlight into electricity,” you’ll search far and wide on its Web site without finding any dollar figures attached to it. You can be sure that “leading share” is a lot closer to $15 million than $15 billion.
More significantly, the Beyond Petroleum campaign seems to argue for the disappearance of the company’s core product. If our kids should be so fortunate as to live in a world beyond petroleum, one in which cars, factories, and electricity plants are powered by an alternative power source—hydrogen, fuel cells, electric batteries, ethanol, fission, or fairy dust—it’s a virtual certainty BP won’t be the one to get us there.
Big players in industries—especially dominant ones—can survive and even profit from dramatic inflection points. IBM adapted from the mainframe to the PC, and Microsoft has survived the transition to the Internet. But giant companies in competitive, capital-intensive businesses, which are owned by shareholders with short time horizons, have difficulty mustering the will to develop a new product that will render existing ventures obsolete.
In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen argued that established players are constitutionally disinclined to develop disruptive technologies on their own. Why? Incumbents spend too much time and resources satisfying their customers’ current needs—in BP’s case, the need for cheap oil and gas. As a result, they fail to latch on to new technologies that may turn into products that customers might need or don’t even know they need.