Monday, June 21, 2010

Paths to Recovery from Oil Spills and Addiction

How can we heal from the devastating Gulf oil spill, and from our crippling dependence on fossil fuels? A pledge to count the ways ….

I’ve just returned from a six-week sojourn to California. I rode Amtrak there and back, visited family and friends, took a break from writing and blogging, and all through the trip, followed news of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster with the sort of horrified helplessness I’m sure many of us feel as we watch BP’s ruptured well spew petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico.

Nodding-donkey pumpjacks bring oil up from wells under California fields. Photo taken from a passing train. ©2010 by Katie Alvord

Eleven men went down in flames as this debacle began. Now more than two months into the spill, scores of birds and animals have died in oil, beaches in at least four states have been fouled, the entire Gulf seafood industry is at risk, and we still have another two months to go before the Deepwater Horizon’s geyser of toxic crude can be fully stopped.

The Gulf of Mexico and the human and non-human lives that depend on its ecosystem are casualties of our addiction to oil. This spill is nothing if not a wake-up call about the dangers of that addiction.

Ghost in the water: From shore, you can still see oil platforms like this one in the Santa Barbara Channel, where a 1969 oil spill was a major wake-up call about the dangers of offshore drilling. This was taken through a train window. ©2010 by Katie Alvord

It’s not just this worst-in-U.S.-history ecotastrophe that compels us to end oil dependence. As headlines astound us with the quantity of crude pouring into the Gulf, the gallons of petroleum products that consistently flush, leak, or spill into streams and seas also poison the planet. In her fine book Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Kay wrote of the spills that occur at all stages of our oil use, from drilling to driving, as she pointed out: “The whole system is a leaky vessel.” As of the 1990s, when Kay wrote this book, an estimated quarter-billion gallons of oil regularly escaped into the environment each year just in the U.S.

This routine spillage has only gone up, and it occurs around the globe. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Anene Ejikeme of Trinity University noted that petroleum extraction in the Niger Delta – which supplies significant oil to the U.S. -- has spilled the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez into Nigerian coastal waters every year for the last 50 years. As a result, Ejikeme writes, “Dead fish and oily water are part of daily life for Niger Delta residents.” She cites an Amnesty International report documenting that these Nigerians “have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water, and eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins.”

Is this the future for the Gulf Coast, and for the globe – a future we are now watching unfold before our eyes as we view live video of Deepwater Horizon’s dark and ongoing underseas gusher?

It doesn’t have to be. The good news: there is a tremendous amount we can do to turn away from fossil fuels, to recover from oil dependence and pursue paths to cleaner energy. Based on prior research and writing on this topic, I believe that we can all help to do this now, today, in our own lives, in ways large and small. We can all help in recovering from the Gulf spill and in recovering from our crippling addiction to oil.

Toward that end, I make this three-part pledge:

1) I pledge to write a blog post every day for the next thirty days about actions and policies that can move us down a path to cleaner energy, help us recover from the Gulf spill, and/or help us recover from oil addiction. I’m counting this post as the first of these thirty.

2) I pledge to pursue the personal oil-use-reducing actions I will write about, and describe my experiences in my posts.

3) I pledge to donate $2 per post to non-profits working on cleaner energy and spill recovery, and invite you to join me by pledging to donate anywhere from 10 cents on up per post I write over the next 30 days. In a future post, I’ll give details about how to do this.

Many of my posts will be here on this “Divorce Your Car!” blog – appropriately enough, since so much of the oil we use gets consumed by driving. Some posts might be on other blogs, but I’ll link to those here and make this site “pledge central.” Besides pledging to contribute, I invite you to read and comment on these posts, tell your friends, and reduce your own oil use by trying out the personal actions I’ll describe.

More soon!


  1. that's a very noble idea. You should also see what Bill Gates is saying and stressing for the need of clean energy R&D funding. Also, Thomas Friedman is big on this topic even though his knowledge is very shallow

  2. Good suggestions re: Gates and Friedman -- I'll try to mention or link to some of their ideas in future posts. I did see Gates and other business leaders hit the news a few weeks ago when they urged the U.S. to dramatically step up its development of cleaner energy sources. Thanks for your comment!