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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/2/10

Darwin Awaits

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Message Stephen Pizzo
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Excuse me, but will everyone take a moment and join me up here, 60,000 feet above the blizzard of what's-happening-right-now news. We've all been sitting way too close to the screen. Every now and then it's a good idea to step away, way away, and get a grip on the big picture.

Look down, there's that oil slick in the Gulf. Ugly, and getting uglier by the minute. But it's the perfect place begin this little chat. Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to launch into a tirade about the evils of offshore drilling. Those kind of arguments are exactly what we came way up here to get away from. They're so near-sighted.

No, we and that's a universal "we" that means everyone we need to grapple with some extremely gnarly questions, the answers to which if there are indeed answers will decide our mutual fate.

First an illustrative fact: When BP filed its environmental impact study produced, of course, by themselves they stated categorically that "a catastrophic blowout resulting in an uncontrolled spill" at this very rig, was "virtually impossible."

And so it came to pass that BP got what it wanted; the okay to drill. And Louisiana got what it wanted; more business for its oil and gas industries. And Americans got what we wanted; more gasoline for our cars, motorcycles, speed boats, jet skies, dune buggies etc.

The only difference in our attitudes about all this from, say the 1950s to today, is that today many of us actually feel a tinge of guilt as we pump gallons of gas into our tanks. Otherwise, nothing much has changed. We've learned how to tamp down, rationalize or just live with our energy guilt.

One of the most important anti-depressants for that guilt are energy company themselves. They claim that they're on the problem like tight leather on Palin. Even as these companies go about their dirty and dangerous businesses, they sing the praises of all the new technologies they employ which make it all ever so less dirty and dangerous. In fact, they make worse-case scenarios, "impossible." (Thanks, BP, we needed that reassurance. How else could we live with ourselves the next time we pump 20 gallons of your product into our tank?)

Even black, grimy coal has been rebanded. Now it's "clean coal." Gasoline and diesel fuels too now virtually brim with hydrocarbon antibodies that clean the air while cleaning our engines. And, just when you started to worry about "peak oil" we learn from the gas and oil companies that America is sitting atop so much natural gas it's amazing the whole country don't just float away on the damn stuff. Conserve? Forgetaboutit.

But for the really "good news" just ask anyone in the resurgent nuclear power industry, "wazzup?" They'll be happy to tell you that the new generation of nuclear power plants are so safe you could build them next to daycare centers.

What about meltdowns, like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island? Forgetaboutit. "Impossible!"

Impossible? Like the BP Gulf blowout was "impossible?" That kind of impossible?

I'm only asking. Someone should. Because if a meltdown were to happen we wouldn't be talking about just a bunch of dead seabirds and fish. We'd be talking about dead people, and plenty of them.

Let's imagine just that -- that rather than a BP oil platform blowing up, that that thing was instead a nuclear plant just outside a major city, like Atlanta. Imagine that the "impossible" happened there too. We do have a clue. The Chernobyl meltdown produced more than 300 times the radioactive fallout of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That fallout spread as far as Western Europe. Forced the evacuation of nearly half a million people and, according to the newest estimates, eventually killed as many as 1 million people, either quickly through radiation poisoning or slowly later through cancer and other radiation-caused factors. And let's not even get into birth defects reaching down in to future generations.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not just some lefty, tree-hugging, PETAish, bleeding heart environmentalist. (Well, okay, I am kinda the last.) But I'm not here making an argument for green energy. Because green energy comes with its own baggage. While the far-right does have its head locked in place up its collective ass on global climate change, the left has assumed a Yoga position of similar mechanics when it comes to the panacea of green energy. Just read the Washington Post's "Five Myths About Green Energy," article HERE.

My point is that, to coin a science fiction clichà , "people of Earth," we need to step way back and get a collective grip on exactly what it is we're going to do about the next 200 years. After that we'll have either joined the duck-billed dinosaurs or have survived and begin colonizing and exploiting the resources of -- other worlds. Until then we have to figure out how we're going to provide for the power needs of, not just fat and wasteful Americans, but increasingly fat and wasteful Chinese, Indians, South Americans, etc.

As part of our guilt-free energy consumption we like to forget that nature locked all that dinosaur era CO2 away way the hell down there for a damn good reason. If we do it with "clean coal," the only sign of humans left a million years hence will be a seam of coal, oil or gas sequestering human era CO2.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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