|Chris Reid | Special to the Times|
The oil spill crossed the Rubicon on Friday.
At sundown Thursday, families frolicked in the crashing surf at Pensacola Beach. A few surfers tried to find a wave. The beach bar troubadours played Neil Young and Eagles tunes as college kids knocked back beers. A skinny guy with a metal detector shuffled along looking for treasure.
All was as it should be, the classic chamber of commerce picture of Florida beach life.
On Friday everything was different. The families were still there, splashing around. The beach bars still sold brewskis to thirsty college kids. But in the surf line, mingled with the broken sand dollars and the calico shells, lay an army of invaders straight out of a science-fiction movie:
Thousands of shiny, reddish-brown globs, glistening in the sun — signs that the Deepwater Horizon disaster had at last stained Florida's sugar-white beaches.
Tar balls washed ashore along more than 40 miles of the Panhandle coast, from Perdido Key State Park on the western end of Escambia County to Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County. Boats snared big tar mats floating in Pensacola Pass, and a dozen more mats were spotted late Friday in the gulf about 6 miles south of the Navarre Beach pier, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The St. Petersburg Times, 5 June 2010
The oil reached Florida and so the waiting's over in the Panhandle. Now the waiting takes on more urgency to those of us farther down the coast. It's no longer a matter of will it get here, now it's a matter of when.
This spill didn't have to happen of course, but the unholy union of our culture, our government, our society and our economy made it an inevitability. As a Gulf Coast resident, this effects me personally and I want to blame someone. I want to blame BP of course. I want to blame Ronald Reagan for birthing a bankrupt school of governance that says that industries should be free to write their own regulations. I want to blame Haliburton. I want to blame globalization. I want to blame who ever it's politically expedient to blame.
But if I want to level blame with any degree of integrity, I need to blame myself for buying a tank of gas yesterday. I paid around $2.65 a gallon when I filled up my tank, a fraction of the actual cost to bring it to me. Despite its bargain price, I still groaned when I saw the total price go over $30.
According to a 1998 paper written by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the actual cost of that gallon was somewhere between $5.60 and $15.37. Mind you, that was based on a retail price of $1.25 and before the costs of invading and occupying Iraq are figured in. Part of me doesn't want to know what that number is now. Gasoline and petroleum prices are kept artificially low by the oil companies' practice of externalizing their costs. Most of these externalized costs are absorbed by federal, state and local governments. The costs to find the oil, drill for the oil, ship the oil, keep the shipping lanes secure for the safe passage of the oil, refine the oil, transport the refined oil, market the refined oil, discover new uses for the refined oil, etc. are either paid by governments directly, or indirectly through a series of subsidies and paybacks.
It's not just gasoline either. Crude oil gets made into the stuff that makes up life in 2010. Look around you, if you need a reminder of oil's omnipresence, here's a partial list: nylon zippers, ballet tights, plastic hangers, pantyhose, flip flops, fake fur, polyester, ball point pens, ink, computers, copiers, magic markers, telephones, microfilm, cameras, earphones, footballs, knitting needles, tennis racquets, golf balls, baby aspirin, stuffed animals, Band aids, Vaseline, Pepto-Bismol, hair coloring, soap, cough syrup, hair spray, lipstick and on and on. Oil subsidies and externalized costs keep these things and the raw materials that make them artificially cheap.
This is not some dark conspiracy or nefarious plan. My spending habits and my need for speed and convenience created the whole mess. Every time I buy a dollar bottle of shampoo or a $4 T-shirt I give my consent to the whole system. I vote with my money and so does everybody else. Calling for the head of Tony Hayward, BP's Chief Executive, won't stop any of this. It won't clean up the Gulf and it won't stop the world's dependence on (artificially) cheap oil. Boycotting BP won't help either. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is their fault and their problem, of that there can be no doubt. But this disaster could have happened at any offshore platform anywhere in the world.
Exxon Valdez groundings and Deepwater Horizon explosions will continue to happen in a world where consumerism reigns supreme. All of the talk about energy independence and alternative energy sources don't amount to a hill of beans when most of what I touch, buy, own and use starts out in an oil well and is sold to me at an artificially low price.
Oil disasters and oil-related world instability will continue so long as oil subsidies continue. Deep water oil drilling Russian roulette will continue without back up safety plans so long as the oil industry continues to call the shots. But oil subsidies won't go away and a functioning regulatory environment will never come to be in a world where you and I demand $2.65 a gallon gasoline and $4 T-shirts.
Thinking about this stuff is of zero comfort as I wait for the tar balls to arrive at the beach down the street or in my beloved Pass-a-Grille. This monster's awake and I don't think anything can stop it at this point. The oiled wildlife will suffer and die, the fishing fleets will stay in port and our already shaky economy will suffer a blow this summer that hurts to think about too much.
The road out of this can't stop with addressing the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We have a lesson to learn here, as a society. The newly fouled Gulf is a mirror and in its iridescent sheen anybody can see the gruesome reflection of a world gone mad. The oiled pelicans in the news this week are the result of a society that will go to any length to keep energy and consumer goods as cheap as possible. When you look at those birds, think about your role in how they got that way. Then vote with your dollars or pounds or euros or pesos. How you spend your money will determine what's next. Let's face it, at this stage of the game, it's the only meaningful vote you have.