The beginning of the end of the Age of Oil

Its been 5 weeks now, and the oil is still gushing from the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. All attempts to cap the well have failed, and there’s no doubt that it’s now a major disaster.

BP’s PR campaign is in full swing. They are buying up key internet search terms, so that if you search for information about the oil spill you’re more likely to come across a BP-controlled site, or be able to “Learn more about how BP is helping”.

BP’s taken control of the cleanup, but they’re not having much success cleaning up. They’re having more success in keeping pictures of dead fish, birds and animals out of the headlines, as they’ve forbidden any of their contract workers from taking pictures, and there’ve been remarkably few visuals of the devastation.

A BP worker secretly snuck out a media team, who got a picture of an oil-filled dolphin washed up on the rocks. He talked of seeing a group of five sea turtles covered in oil, three dead, the other two mortally ill. Of brown pelicans, highly endangered, but successfully re-introduced and thriving on an offshore island, covered in oil as their home is engulfed by the slick.

Not much of the spill has washed up on the US mainland yet – it’s still been mostly confined to various small islands offshore, which is why BP has been able to control access. That’ll change as the oil reaches the US mainland.

There are doubts about BP’s survival. It’s share value has plummeted from $122 billion dollars to $80 billion dollars. A US-led consumer boycott is in full swing. And legal minds have already found ways to ensure BP is liable for unlimited damages, and a criminal case opened.

Ironically, BP usually ranks at the top of various green oil company charts. With so much of its oil located in the US, it follows higher environmental standards than other companies. Shell’s devastation in Nigeria continues to this day, even as we remember the death of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed by the then Nigerian military regime in 1995 after leading a non-violent campaign against Shell’s activities in his homeland.

Or Chevron (owners of Caltex locally), whose devastation in Ecuador under a compliant military regime have now come back to haunt them with the civilian government not proving so compliant.

Or ExxonMobil, branded the number 1 climate criminal, and most conspicuous with their efforts to sabotage attempts to deal with climate change.

It’s a mistake though to imagine the problem is all “out there”, all the fault of those evil companies and governments. Doing so denies our own shadow, our culpability. G.K. Chesterton once responded, when asked what was most wrong with the world, “I am”. An enlightening and empowering view – what are we doing to create the problem? And conversely, what are doing to solve it?

The catastrophe offers us a great opportunity. The US government is now looking at removing oil industry tax credits, and directing them towards renewable energy. The European Union is now agreeing standards on the recharging of electric cars. To date each manufacturer has done their own thing, meaning systems aren’t compatible.

It can be done – all of our own produce is packed in compostable bags, we encourage all of our suppliers to do the same, and our vehicle, although it still runs on diesel while we wait for the electric version powered by solar-generated electricity, makes use of small-scale biodiesel.

While that’s no consolation to the thousands of creatures affected by the oil spill, there are signs this is the beginning of the end of the Age of Oil.

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Nina

    Hi Ian, just want to let you know that I get a lot of "green" newsletters and blogs in my inbox and yours is consistently one of the best! Truly informative (and informed) unequivocally stating your view but always thoughtfully balanced and never preachy - I always look forward to your weekly musings. Thank you and keep them coming. best wishes Nina

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