Gulf Oil Tragedy Serves as Wake-Up Call to Folly of Fossil Fuels

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Bruce Bowers

BP has, for more than a decade, been engaged in a public relations campaign to sell itself as "Beyond Petroleum." It should be clear to us all now that the more appropriate label is "Blowout Pioneer."

However, although a case can be made for BP's having an unusually bad safety record, it is fundamentally just another international oil company carrying out a mission necessary to the functioning of modern society. To focus on BP as a villain in the drama that has been playing out in the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months now is to miss the point entirely. It is an exercise in killing the messenger, instead of paying attention to the message.

The message is that we are well past the period of cheap, easily accessible oil reserves.

The facts are these:

1. As recently as 1999, when the global economy was riding high, oil was selling at less than $15 per barrel. Now, while the wealthy nations of the world remain mired in recession, that price has been maintaining at $70 to $80 per barrel. It is clear that a return to business as usual will only doom the global economy to a series of mini-spurts, during which the price of oil will skyrocket, followed by increasingly deeper and more protracted recessions.

2. Whereas prior to World War II the United States was self-sufficient in oil, now two thirds of U.S. oil consumption depends upon oil imports.

3. The U.S. government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to maintain more than 700 military bases around the world. A major function of this global military presence is to ensure that the flow of foreign oil to our shores is maintained.

4. The current consumption of fossil fuels is causing environmental degradation at an alarming rate, whether it be framed in terms of the current Gulf oil disaster, the devastation of wilderness areas due to coal mining and the extraction of oil from shale or tar sands, or the air pollution that results from fossil fuel burning everywhere.

5. Most devastating over the long haul, the burning of fossil fuels over the past two centuries, with the consequent release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, has produced a "greenhouse effect" on the planet. The effects of the resulting increase in average temperature, or global warming, are already apparent in the rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap, the acidification of the oceans and the dramatic increase in category-4 and -5 hurricanes, as well as other extreme weather events. …