Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Of Oil and Water

The cataclysmic BP oil spill now spreading through the Gulf of Mexico signifies--if any further signifying were needed--why America's (and the world's) addiction to fossil fuels cannot be reconciled with any reasonable vision of a sustainable planet. Forget global warming for the moment; forget wars over oil; forget fine particulate pollution (in Pittsburgh, where I hail from, the good news is that we've moved up from the nation's worst air to the nation's third worst). Just look at the well belching hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into the world's waters, and ask yourself: how long is it going to take before we realize that we're on a crash course with doomsday?

Then there's the recent coal mine explosion in West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 workers. Coal, the cheapest and dirtiest fossil fuel around, is responsible, one way or another, for thousands of deaths every year: deaths from accidents, from air pollution, from contaminated waters. I heard recently that there's an investigation underway into corruption in the regulatory agencies that supposedly oversee coal mining. Seems as if mine inspectors are on the take. Seems as if while we're paying with our lives, they're just getting paid.

And then there's the ongoing dispute in Pennsylvania over the Marcellus shale, a natural gas-rich formation that underlies much of our state. The drilling companies rushing to take advantage of this lucrative sink of fossil fuels is refusing to pay a severance tax to help mitigate the environmental damages their activities will surely cause. If they're taxed, they say, they'll take their business elsewhere, depriving us of the thousands of (good?) jobs they'd otherwise bring. Every other state in the nation that authorizes deep well drilling imposes a severance tax, but the Pennsylvania legislature can't seem to bring itself to do the same. More fossil fuels, more deaths, more damage, more destruction, and no one to pay for it.

A quick definition of addiction: knowing you're killing yourself but refusing to stop. That pretty much sums up the state of the world as we continue to pump junk into our veins and waters.

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