Monday, June 28, 2010

Cleaning Up Our Act

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

In today’s news from the Gulf, oil has now washed up on a major Mississippi tourist beach near Biloxi, forcing evacuations; trackers expect Tropical Storm Alex to become a hurricane and affect the spread of oil, even without crossing the spill zone; and high seas from Alex have already delayed BP’s plans to attempt capturing more oil this week.

There’s more in-depth information on Alex and other potential hurricanes, including expected effects on the Gulf oil slick, at the excellent Weather Underground blog, or WunderBlog, written by Jeff Masters. A WunderBlog post from earlier today reported that winds and currents resulting from Alex will likely “push oil to the west and northwest onto portions of the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coasts …. Oil will also move westward along the central Louisiana coast towards the Texas border.” In other words, there’s still a mess spreading out from the shattered Deepwater Horizon well, and there’s a long way to go to clean it up.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a TV ad campaign from the Clean Economy Network is citing the Gulf catastrophe in urging Congressional action on energy legislation. “The Gulf oil disaster makes one thing really clear,” says spokesperson Tim Healy, an energy company CEO, in the ad. “It’s time for America to clean up our energy act.”

Will the Gulf disaster finally get Congress to move on energy and climate policy? Some people aren’t waiting to find out; the're going ahead with action to clean up their personal energy acts. I found one inspiring story in a comment following Jason Henderson’s essay "The Moral Imperative of the BP Oil Spill: Drive 20% Less,” which I first referenced on June 26th. The commenter’s family decided to cut their own energy use by 20% per year over three years, originally to address climate change. The comment notes: “After two years, we’ve succeeded in reducing our gasoline usage by 40% by 1) downsizing one car; 2) acquiring 2 electric bicycles to replace car driving for almost all short trips; 3) encouraging children to take public transit; and 4) forming carpools for other necessary kid schlepping.”

This is a wonderful example of what we can do as individuals and as households. Forty percent is a significant number. This story also reminds me of a book written years ago to encourage use of electric cars, Why Wait for Detroit? It’s an apt title, given that Detroit’s handling of electric car manufacture is summed up in the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car? When it comes to getting off oil, we might need a book with a similar title, maybe Don’t Wait for D.C. I’m glad to see more pressure on Congress for energy and climate legislation – we definitely need it – but I’m not counting on the federal government to act as quickly or extensively as necessary. We also need plenty of personal action to truly clean up our energy act.

If you’ve read Divorce Your Car! you know I believe that personal action can be a big source of societal change. I’m grateful to the commenter cited above for providing another good example of how much difference personal action can make.

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