The Skywriter

How big does the BP Oil slick look from the other side of the country?


How big does the BP Oil slick look from the other side of the country?


Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.-- Garth

In Seattle, we’re even further from the Gulf than outer space, but the disaster looks enormous from here. The impact that is just beginning to be felt reminds us of how our fragile inland sea, the Puget Sound, could be devastated for a generation by a tanker accident. Concerned Seattleites gathered on a bridge over I-5 on May 7th to protest the oil spill and demand “full clean up and compensation for the workers, habitats and families affected”.

Though proper clean up of this disaster is critical, it isn’t enough. When it’s time for my four-year old to clean his room, the first step is to stop making a bigger mess. This is not easy. Likewise, as we clean up this mess, it’s important to stop making more messes. We need to stop offshore drilling.

But that isn’t enough either. If all we do is stop drilling, then we’ll just be exporting our mess. Imagine a city busts all of the heroin dealers in a neighborhood, so the junkies get on a bus (at least if they are environmentally-concerned junkies) to find new dealers. We need to deal with the addiction, not just the supply. If all we do is stop drilling offshore, then someone else’s waters will be devastated. We can’t force Nigeria to stop off-shore drilling or even to follow basic safety and environmental standards, but we can go into treatment to end our addiction.

For example, the car companies have been suggesting a good way to reduce our oil consumption is a gas tax. Anyone who has traveled to Europe knows that this isn’t theory, but observationally true. For instance, in Britain the current gas tax is about $3 a gallon and the CO2 emission from transportation for residents of London is much lower than for American cities of comparable density. There are many reasons for this (e.g. dense, walkable neighborhoods built before the invention of the car, plentiful transit). When gas hit $4 a gallon people were crowding onto the buses in Seattle and all over the country and sales of the Hummer and other SUVs tanked and never recovered.

By lowering our demand for oil, ideas like a gas tax will also help decrease our trade deficient; importation of oil accounts for about half of our balance of trade. It will also make American cars more competitive in the world market. Some of the money raised should be returned to taxpayers making the income tax more progressive to counteract the regressive nature of this sales tax. The rest could be invested in battery technology, charging stations, to investing in renewable energies to speed the end of our addiction to fossil fuels and lowering our budget deficit.

If we only look at the source of oil and not the supply, our efforts will be as successful as the war on drugs and prohibition.

Have an opinion on this idea? How can we create more livable cities and reduce our dependence on oil? Give us your comments or ideas below.

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