Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Michael T. Klare
The BP oil spill is more than an environmental disaster—it is a civilizational crisis, in that it constitutes a shock not only to the environment but also to the nation’s political, economic, and energy systems.
Avoiding future environmental disasters from these activities cannot be achieved through improved oversight, as suggested by Obama and countless other politicians, both Democratic and Republican. Environmental catastrophe is an inevitable outcome of extreme energy extraction because the energy companies are operating at the very edge of technological capacity in inherently dangerous environments where unforeseen calamities are to be expected. Global warming—itself the product of over-reliance on fossil fuels—will only make matters worse, producing more high-strength hurricanes in the Gulf and more drifting ice in the Arctic. Even with the most stringent regulatory reforms, drilling in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and/or the Arctic Ocean will invite a repetition of the current crisis at some future point.
Our reliance on extreme energy underscores the extent of the political and economic problems associated with the Gulf disaster. The only way to overcome our dependence on increasingly hazardous fuels is to undertake a crash program to develop and install alternative energy systems—notably wind, solar, geothermal, and advanced (non-food) biofuels. But this will be very costly, and the big energy firms are unwilling to abandon their traditional reliance on fossil fuels and uranium in order to invest massive sums in alternatives. Hence, they will persist in their drive to dig in ever deeper waters and in other extreme energy locations.
This means the transition to an alternative energy future must be led by governments. But just at the moment when governments are needed to step in and assume leadership for managing the transition to a safe energy future, they are being paralyzed by massive debt problems and anti-big-government sentiments. ...
Only by visualizing an entirely new type of civilization, based on renewable fuels rather than existing ones, can we face the future with hope and confidence.
This is an excerpt from Michael T. Klare's article in the latest issue of The Progressive. To read the article in its entirety, and to read the rest of the special issue The Big Spill online, and to subscribe to The Progressive for a year—all for just $14.97—simply click here.