BP or Us?

wetlands near New Orleans

   Who’s the biggest culprit in the Gulf disaster? Everyone’s talking tough about BP and their culpability. The President, in my opinion, said exactly what he had to say about the catastrophe 36 hours ago. Late last night, I saw where one lawmaker, referring to BP CEO Tony Hayward’s testimony before congress later today, said “They’re going to take his hide off, as they should.” All reports point to a corporate culture of risk-taking at the expense of safety, the story says. There’s talk of extracting massive reparations from BP for damages to the region.

cluster of oil drilling platforms on the Gulf of Mexico

cluster of oil drilling platforms

   This is reasonable.  Livelihoods are being lost. In all likelihood, thousands of jobs will be lost as a result of the fact that you can’t fish there anymore. And it isn’t just commercial fishermen, either. The sport fishers support local hotels, restaurants, retail, and the like.

wetlands near New Orleans

Louisiana coastal wetlands

   And that’s only the human side of it. Most of the victims in this disaster can’t hire attorneys for a class-action lawsuit. Countless creatures are dying, and precious wilderness is being spoiled for decades, or even generations. We likely have very little idea what the long-term toll to the environment will be. So clearly, BP should pay.

interchange between I-65 and I-459 in Hoover, near Birmingham, Alabama

interstate interchange

   But the BP blood-lust, and the countless newspeople who are fanning those flames, are  completely missing the real point. Because the ultimate fault lies not so much with some foreign corporation, as with us. We are to blame, and we’re going to cause even more of these disasters. How can that be?

McMansion in subdivision near Birmingham, Alabama

McMansion in sprawl

   We’ve created a suburban nation, where the only way to get around is to drive. The easy oil to support that lifestyle has been pumped years ago, so oil companies are having to go to greater and greater lengths to find new reserves. Much has been made over the fact that the gusher is buried a mile deep in the Gulf. Drilling so deep was unthinkable just a few years ago, but expect it to become much more common in the near future. Here’s why:

enormous oil drilling platfom in the Gulf of Mexico

huge oil drilling platform in the Gulf

   Two really big things are happening at once: We are arguably reaching worldwide Peak Oil right about now, a condition that was predicted in 1956 by Shell Oil geoscientist M. King Hubbert. We reached Peak Oil in the lower 48 states of the US in 1970. Since then, we have pumped less and less oil as reserves have dwindled. The same thing has happened or will happen in other countries, of course. No finite resource lasts forever.

large group of oil platforms and boats in the Gulf of Mexico

large group of oil drilling platforms

   The other really big thing happening right now is the fact that in China and India alone, there are roughly 2-1/2 billion people who have until recently lived in very low-impact agrarian settings who are now moving to the city... and that’s not counting other populous nations like Brazil that are going through similar changes.

WalMart parking lot in Hoover, Alabama

WalMart parking lot

   In the US, we have roughly 300 million cars for 300 million people. If China and India do 2-1/2 times as our ratio of cars to people, then there will still be a billion cars on the road in those countries in a few years that don’t even exist today. Combine that with the fact that oil supplies are going to decline, and any student of Economics 101 knows we have a major problem.

Gulf of Mexico oil platform in murky waters

Gulf of Mexico oil platform

   So whether or not we put BP out of business, we’ll be clamoring for whatever oil companies remain to keep drilling, and they’ll have to keep going to more treacherous lengths to extract the stuff. And as all humans do, they will occasionally have accidents. The problem is that these increasingly inhospitable sites raise the stakes. The harder it is to get to, the bigger the risk and the worse the accident. It is going to happen again! More frequently. And the damage will be worse.

attached snout houses with garages open to the street

attached snout houses

   So who’s really to blame? In the words of the long-ago cartoon character Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It’s us, and our suburban lifestyle, that have created the massive demands for oil, because it simply isn’t possible to live in sprawling suburbs without driving everywhere. We drive to work, to shop, to school, to worship, and to play. We have no choice because of the design of our cities... if you live in the suburbs, try walking to work. It’s likely so far that you just might get there by quitting time. But the walk would be so dangerous that you just might not make it in one piece.

houses in sprawling subdivision near Birmingham, Alabama

sprawl subdivision

   What’s the solution? There are several, actually, and it’s high time to get to work on them. First, we really must quit building our world in its currently highly segregated fashion, with subdivisions, shopping malls, office parks, and pods of other uses connected only by massive roads. The New Urbanism movement has been working on solutions to this for years, and they’re really quite good at what they do. Next, we can’t just discard the suburbs... far too many people have their life’s savings tied up in their homes there, and most of them are unlikely to be able to walk away, even as the price of gas skyrockets as the reality of Peak Oil hits home. So we’ve got to find ways of repairing the suburbs to transform them into real hamlets, villages, and towns, where you can live, work, shop, learn, worship, and play, all within walking distance. Fortunately, the New Urbanists have been working on that, too. Look for the Sprawl Repair Manual, to be released shortly. If we get to work now, we just might be able to turn the tide before another disaster occurs.

   ~Steve Mouzon

Note: If any of the images above are useful to you, they’re available at high resolution for printing or download on my Zenfolio site. Just click on the image and it’ll take you there.

Legacy Comments:

Friday, June 18, 2010 - 06:17 PM


Agree, but let's have a little fun at the expense of BP.


Sunday, June 20, 2010 - 06:58 PM

Steve Mouzon

No problem, me... Let's just not forget that sprawl started the whole sorry mess.

Thanks! ~Steve


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018