Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Just Say No" Is Not Much Of An Answer To the Oil Spill

Thomas Friedman takes the environment seriously, and he is usually a sharp commentator, although his flair for storytelling often rests on simplistic assumptions like in his latest column where he comments on the BP-made disaster in the Mexican Gulf. (This Time Is Different) In it he quotes his pal Mark Mykleby, who has written a letter to the editor for The Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina.

"It is the best reaction I’ve seen to the BP oil spill — and also the best advice to President Obama on exactly whom to kick you know where."
Well, let's listen to this piece of advice:
"This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault."
Which of course is true in the sense that we are living in a democracy, and we have voted for politicians that made the oil spill possible. We should acknowledge our collective responsibility for letting BP, Haliburton and Transocean drill at 5,000 feet without knowing what they were doing besides drilling, and without having any plans for what to do if things go wrong. But what can we learn from that?
"It’s what we do as individuals that count," Friedman's friend writes, writing off both the left and the right in the next sentence with an equanimity that sounds nice, but is about as clever as trying to solve the drug problem with "Just Say No!"
"Government regulation will not solve this problem," Mykleby writes, but the fact is that government regulation could have prevented the oil spill. But the American public has followed Reagan's anti-government, anti-regulation ideology for too long, and we are now beginning to pay a terrible price for that. Just look at those birds, and all those families whose livellyhood is being wiped out by the oil. Mykleby concludes:
"Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something."
Do something? Like... Just Say No to oil?

Biking is great, but we also need to tax oil - an idea I believe Friedman has supported in the past - and have the government invest in new energy technology and a radical shift in our transportation system. America rejected public, collective transportation, which was incredibly good for the auto industry, and led to a growth pattern that made it very hard to live and work without a car.

Even such a simple thing as taking the bike to work will in most cases require political decisions and changes in city planning. Countries like Denmark and Sweden have shown what you can achieve by redesigning cities to make it easier for people to take the bike to work, but this was not a moral, individualistic choice, but a collectivistic political choice. You need government to make it possible for the individueal to Just Say No.

Nice and pretty doesn't cut it when we are dealing with big, social and structural problems, like energy independence, energy efficiency and sustainability.

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