Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Glorious Oil Spill

A hardcore capitalist tried to convince me of the power the free market has on the oil industry.  When we had this conversation, there were only gasoline powered vehicles.  Electric cars were an impractical novelty.  Car companies competed with each other. Oil companies competed with each other. Tire companies, engine manufacturers, and vehicle design teams all competed against their respective opposition. However, there was no viable alternative vehicle to a gasoline powered car. Trains, subways and planes take people to approximate locations near where we want to go.  Gasoline powered cars were the only thing that got us to our final destination and their dominance was unopposed. Oil and car companies, with big money, power and expensive lobbyists made sure that innovations opposing their dominance were crushed. This didn't seem very "free market" to me.

I told the capitalist this.  He just said that if people wanted alternatives, they would stop buying gasoline. Considering the circumstances, the public had no choice but to buy gas unless they couldn't afford it.  We were in the snare of an international conspiracy, forced to buy something we didn't particularly want.  We weren't just convinced it was a good idea by brilliant marketing; we were prevented from buying anything that would compete against it.

I began to root for the price of oil to rise nearly high enough to topple our economy, but didn't see how it could be achieved.  Enter China.  They began buying mass amounts of oil from the Middle East, thus increasing demand and driving up the price. Americans were outraged at gas prices that rose well above $3.50 and sometimes $4.00. We protested, carpooled, took trains and subways, rode bikes and even walked to work.  The big, bad and completely unnecessary 4x4 Hemis were no longer selling well.  Gas guzzlers stayed on car lots for months and years. Car companies faced serious trouble.

We saw a change.  Manufacturers mass-produced Smartcars. Hybrids were ushered to the mainstream.  Marketers began focusing on gas-mileage. Car dealers had limited time promotions for "free gas." Game shows started awarding "free gas for a year." Gas consumption took precedence and at long last, we were provided some alternative.  It wasn't enough. The United States began drilling within its borders again and the gas prices fell.  The collapse of the house market caused people to pay attention to gas mileage, but not as fervently as they did before. Due to the recession, people stopped buying cars altogether.  I was elated.  If the current car companies that shoved gas-guzzlers down our throats for the last 40 years went out of business, more responsible businesses would take their places.  Then we bailed them out.  The recession lifted and Dodge is still slapping Hemis into their ridiculous road monsters.  They have a few more restrictions now, after accepting government money, but they are still the same guys that had us under their thumb for decades.

I have no problem with cars running on gasoline.  I have a problem with ALL cars running on gasoline.  Which is what the oil companies have coerced/convinced car companies into providing.  Americans became more skeptical of oil companies when President Bush was repeatedly attacked for his "shady" ties to the oil industry.  It was in the news daily.  It was still not enough to make the American public hate, truly hate, the oil industry.  With high, fluctuating gasoline prices, an already notorious reputation, a media-induced association with war and the most hated president of all time, all it should take to unburden ourselves of their evil presence is a slight nudge, a negative event caused by an oil company, perhaps.  Something awful and close to home.  Something that devastates American businesses, damages the environment, and raises the cost of many products across the nation.

BP, you glorious bastards, thanks for the most tremendous fuck up in oil industry history.  Not only has your rig's explosion stalled the southern fishing industry, killed universally-adored dolphins and cute animals on international television, polluted Louisiana marshes, destroyed western Floridian tourism, it also killed eleven blue collar Americans. You united Americans in common hatred not seen since 9/11.

The President has finally chosen to manipulate a situation in a way I completely endorse.  He is using the oil rig explosion to cast a shadow of menace upon the entire oil industry. He's calling for a new clean energy policy that could end U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, which is exactly what we need.

What will be the lasting effect of the oil spill in the coast? Probably not too much.  In WWII, from late 1942 to early 1944, more than 60 oil tankers were torpedoed off the United States East Coast leaking millions of gallons of oil into the sea with each torpedo strike. For a time, New York State's tide was black with oil.  If this current oil catastrophe leaks steadily for the next 400 days, it have about the same ecological effect as the torpedoed tankers. In other words, massive amounts of oil in the ocean is not a unique event in history, but I completely agree with the politicians that are painting it so.

To me, the tragedy came with the explosion on the oil rig.  We lost 11 non-combatant human beings. Everything after that could be considered a lucky break.  If we manage to stop the leak in the next few months, recover most of the oil and clean up most of the damage all by billing BP, we will still have short term problems to keep us busy. That being said, if that is all it costs for ending our dependence on the Middle East, pulling out our troops without detrimental side effects, and developing more efficient alternative energy, we will make out like bandits.

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