As anyone who has turned on a TV in the past month knows, there is a massive plume of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Recently I moved to the Gulf Coast and instantly took to eating locally and enjoying the fresh seafood, but that time is now over. With the larger and larger fishing bans, many fishermen are choosing to do other things to get paid, resulting in many local restaurants running out of product. The wildlife is suffering, the economy is suffering and there is currently no end in sight. Even when the geyser is turned off, it’ll still take decades to clean the mess, and even then, our addiction to oil won’t stop.
Many people are blaming BP for this issue, and while it was their rig, all the other competing companies have rigs in the gulf with the same “plans” in case something happens. The people tying to boycott the company are not realizing a few things:
- BP doesn’t own most of these BP stations, local people do and it can cost thousands for them to break their contract and sell another gas “brand.”
- If you stop giving BP money, they won’t be able to pay the people they’ve wronged. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if they go broke, all the fishermen and others they’ve wronged won’t get a dime.
- Boycotting BP just gives the money to someone like Exxon (I somehow remember them having a spill) or someone else. How will that help?
There is really only one solution at this point and it is simple: Start embracing alternate energy sources.
I know what some of you are thinking: “It’s impossible!” “It’s hard!” “I won’t until celebrities/politicians/etc do!” And to you I simply have to say: “Grow up.” That’s right, grow up and stop thinking only of yourself. Yes, switching from oil will be hard, no it’s not impossible and anyone who waits for someone else to do it first is a fool. We humans have come up with many reasons/excuses for why we use oil as much as we do:
- We can’t think far enough ahead to see what it’ll do.
- We don’t care about what happens to the planet after we’re gone.
- We don’t believe oil use causes any harm.
- It’s cheap, easy and (seems) plentiful.
- Etc, etc, etc…
What does that say about us as a species? We like to act superior and speak of how much knowledge we have, yet we burn the remains of the ancient creatures that came before us to power our daily lives. We have the ability to harness the power of the sun, the wind, the water and even the heat from the Earth itself. These energies create less disease-causing pollution and are sustainable, and yet… and yet we choose to shun them because it’s easier to not change. Even in the face of a future oil crash and after our oil was effectively turned off in 1973 for a short time, we continue to use. Because of oil’s strangle hold on us we’re at the mercy of a handful of countries in the Middle East, and to loosen their grip we choose to, in a certain politician’s words, “Drill, Baby, Drill.” Oil has literally shaped both America’s policies abroad as well as our environment. And it’s not just America. You see, there’s a secret the oil companies have:
They have major oil spills around the world every year, it’s just usually not reported.
Did you know, for example, that in Nigeria, they’ve had the equivalent of one “Exxon Valdez” sized spill a year for the past 50 years? Not just that, but oil spills happen all the time and usually are bigger than the ones we Americans know about, for example, over 5,500,000 tons of oil was spilled between 1910 and 2010 worldwide (this doesn’t include all spills and doesn’t include the ongoing in Nigeria or the Gulf). During this time period the “Exxon Valdez” comes in at just 35th place with a mere 37,000 tons of oil being spilled (that’s less than 1% of the total oil spilled in the last century). To get an idea, one ton of crude is equal to 308 gallons (or 7.33 barrels). This means over one and a half BILLION gallons have been spilled in the past 100 years. That equals an average of 16,940,000 gallons (403,333 barrels) being spilled somewhere each year.
I feel this is completely unconscionably.
So what can a single person do to help? Well, here are some ideas:
- Replace all “energy eating” devices with modern energy saving ones (light-bulbs, appliances, vehicles, etc).
- Bike/walk more if going short distances (things like Bionix and Xtracycle will help a lot to accomplish this).
- Set your computers (and other devices) to go to sleep when not in use.
- If you have the ability, convert to solar or wind power to help with your power usage.
- Vote for politicians that agree with these goals, research before you go to the polls (don’t stick to party lines “just because”).
- Write companies and ask them to conserve energy and to find ways to reduce their oil usage.
- Eat locally (in season), cook more meals yourself and also buy goods made locally.
While some are obvious to how they help, the last suggestion usually throws people for a loop. What a lot of people don’t think about is how their eating habits directly affect their oil usage. First, you have to think of travel cost. For those living up north, to get your “fresh” strawberries in December they have to travel by truck or plane from California, Florida or Mexico to your grocery store. This uses many bags, boxes, machines and trucks/planes to gather, pack, ship, store and sell these berries. Each part of this uses some form of fuel, from the creation of the plastic bags to the machines used to move the berries to the vehicles used to ship them. The worst part is that in the end, many of these berries will go to waste when they’re not all purchased. If one were to eat local, you might not be able to have fresh berries in Winter, but you’ll save fuel and also look forward to them come summertime.
Second, many things in the US are made from corn. Plastics, almost everything you get from a fast food company, and most junk food are made from corn. This might not seem like a problem, but it takes about 5.5 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer required to grow an acre of corn and 2008 the US grew 86 million acres of corn (this was down from 2007). That translates into approximately 47,300,000 gallons used just to grow corn. Why are they growing all that corn, anyway? Long story short, it’s used to produce everything from the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in your soda to plastics to almost any food additive you can imagine. If we were to start cooking more and eating/shopping local, we wouldn’t need all this corn and the land could be used to produce other food (reducing the need to use all the fertilizer or ship corn all over the country for processing).
If that isn’t enough, how about this? One issue we face in the US is a growing unemployment coupled with a rising illegal immigrant population. Part of this issue is directly related to our current agriculture policies in that it relies on the cheap labor as much as it relies on the oil. If the undocumented labor goes away, the system would fall apart as no unemployed person wants these jobs. In fact, to prove it, they’ve started a campaign called “Take Our Jobs.” From the site:
Take Our Jobs is a national campaign led by United Farm Workers aimed at hiring U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farm workers. The effort spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled, leading to more jobs moving off shore.
As part of the movement, the campaign is sending a letter to U.S. lawmakers, offering up farm workers who are “ready to welcome citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields.” The campaign is encouraging Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions in locations across the country. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply.
By choosing to eat from local, smaller farms, you directly impact this cause. If the large industries can’t make money with their monocultures grown on their large farms, they won’t need to hire undocumented workers to keep the costs down (and will use less oil). Now, the price of food will go up some, but that isn’t a horrible thing. If people learned to cook for themselves like many others in the world do, they’d realize that their dollar can go a long way. Plus, the food being purchased would most likely (if local) be of better quality and better for you, usually causing a reduction of medical costs later on in life. And if all that’s not enough, you’d be directly helping your local economy instead of sending your money to who knows where.
No matter what happens, it won’t be easy, but why shouldn’t we be up for the challenge? We could be the next “Greatest Generation,” but the war we’d win would be for clean energy and a massive reduction in fossil fuels. We could make a stand and show our children’s children that we did care. That we heard the call to action and stepped up.
Some organizations that are working to help with this goal are Hands Across the Sand and Reclaim Our America. Recently I attended events put on by both organizations and met and was joined by the founder of Hands Across the Sand (Dave Rauschkolb) as well as the Executive VP of Reclaim Our America (Jenifer Kuntz). These groups are small, but growing and have one simple goal: Reduce our oil usage and focus our efforts on alternative fuel sources. The photos you see peppered throughout this article were taken at the events and I think it shows that this spill has brought our oil usage to the forefront of many people’s minds. If you want to learn more about what you can do, feel free to contact one of these organizations and I’m sure they can point you in the right direction.
I know not everyone agrees with the need to reduce oil usage, citing everything from the economy to jobs, but put it this way: These spills hurt the economy and jobs each time they happen, why not switch to a cleaner energy source that can create just as many jobs as oil?