As the oil continues to flow in the Gulf, everyone is looking to place blame. And, there’s certainly much to go around. The number one target, of course, is BP. With the details that are coming out about profits being prioritized over safety, BP should certainly be held responsible and be required to fully compensate those whose livelihoods have been destroyed. Recent reports have surfaced that demonstrated the complete lack of preparedness of oil companies to deal with such disasters. They must ensure that the natural ecosystem is restored. The Mineral Management Service that was in bed with the industries it was supposedly regulating should also be held to account. However, in this massive hunt for culprits, we seem to be forgetting about another guilty party – all of us.
Yes, we’re all complicit in this oil spill. Not directly, of course, but indirectly we’ve all played a role. For decades we’ve been unwilling to wean ourselves off of our addiction to petroleum. We’ve been unwilling to consider paying for the environmental damage caused by our use of oil. We’ve been unwilling to consider the true cost of our our consumption. At the same time, America’s sons and daughters are fighting in far away lands, in part to feed this addiction.
This disaster should be a wake up call. And some leaders are talking about the opportunity to change course away from oil. However, there continues to be a knee jerk reaction amongst many that, despite this enormous disaster, continue to encourage us to stay the course. Just look at this recent Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing any effort that might be launched after this horrific oil spill to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
But it’s not just about politicians taking a stand. It’s about the American public raising their voices too. So far, however, polling shows that the public is conflicted. Even after the Gulf oil spill, 66 percent of Americans in a new Pew poll continue to support offshore drilling. However, 66 percent also favor including limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in comprehensive energy legislation. Fifty six percent of Americans say that the environment should take precedence over the desire to keep energy prices low.
However, even before the President made his prime time address on Tuesday that called for comprehensive energy reform, critics were crying foul, accusing the President of playing politics with this disaster. If we only deal with the disaster at hand and not the underlying conditions that led to it, we are likely to repeat this disaster in the future. One of those underlying conditions is our addiction to low cost oil. That’s not playing politics. It’s just common sense.
Yes, we need to hold to account those who should have prevented this disaster from ever occurring. However, our desire for swift justice should not stop us from taking the long view. In our democracy, we’re all responsible for the policies that got us here and it’s up to citizens and elected leaders to change them for the better.