Monday, June 14, 2010

Tom Friedman wants me to take the fall for BP. I'm not going to do it.

Thomas Friedman has a buddy who works in the pentagon and wants to take the blame for the BP oil crisis.  The guy, Mark Mykleby, wrote a letter to the editor of the Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina, saying “I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. "

Mark has reluctantly come to the conclusion that we use too much oil and that's why the Gulf is in such a mess.  His solution is to ride bikes to work and plant gardens and. . .something something something.

Tom Friedman thinks his buddy Mark is on to something, as he tells us in his NYT piece"I think Mykleby’s letter gets at something very important: We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people’s lives. We — both parties — created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them. And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price. (Of course, we expected them to take care, but when you’re drilling for oil beneath 5,000 feet of water, stuff happens.)"

What's this "we" business?  I didn't do any of those things.  (And neither did any of the people I know who just plod along and do their jobs and worry about keeping a roof over their heads.)

I'm getting ready in a few minutes to go hang a load of dark clothes on the clothesline.  Tomorrow I'll wash whites and lights and hang them out if the sun is shining.  If it isn't, I'll wait to wash until the next day.  I have a dryer but the wind and the sun do the job in a much more satisfying way. 

Nearly every light socket in our house is fitted with CFL bulbs.  The ones that can't take them are on dimmers.

We drive a car that gets at least 33 MPG in the country, which is where we live.  It's our only car.

We burn wood in our high-efficiency stove as much as we can so as not to have to use our propane glutton of a furnace.  We close off half of our house in winter and leave it unheated.

We recycle and compost and wash out our zip-lock bags and use them over again.

When we use paper plates, they're paper and not plastic.

I watch "Living with Ed" and find lots to think about when I'm not ROTFL. (Love that guy!)

I'm still not good at remembering to take my own grocery sacks in to the store, but that doesn't mean I'm letting BP off the hook.  Uh uh.

I'm not the paragon of virtue when it comes to living Green, but I'm to blame for the BP oil mess like a sweat drop in a river is to blame for downstream flooding.  As I write this, the Census Bureau clock says the US population is 309,500,735.  If all 310 million of us dripped sweat into the river, we wouldn't raise that river one inch.  Yet you KNOW if we stand there long enough, it's gonna be our fault that somebody upstream messed up and caused the dam to break.

My kids didn't go to school to learn how to cheat people, as Friedman suggests.  What college teaches that?  (They didn't go to Wall Street or K Street or Easy Street, either.  That gladdens my heart no end.)

 And what kind of mindset thinks building a workforce in Silicon Valley might have been the answer to our collosal, unending unemployment problems?  We need to build goods from start to finish in the US, not assemble electronic gadgets with Chinese components.

Okay, people stupidly bought houses they couldn't afford, but somebody else aided and abetted.  They didn't hold guns to those bankers' heads in order to get their loans. 

And nobody but BP made the decision to deep-drill without giving a thought to safety and repairs.  No hoi polloi were involved in the decision to look the other way while British Petroleum went about their dirty business unimpeded.

Now that the inevitable oil crisis is upon us, every pol and pundit has a solution.  More regulation.  Less regulation. A definite reduction of our dependence on foreign oil, and more oil production in the U.S.  Wind, sun and water as alternatives.  Forget wind, sun and water and go with nuclear.

Here's my humble contribution to the discussion:  Bring back the trains, you idiots!  Tell the truck lobbies and car manufacturers to shove it.  One train engine dragging even a paltry dozen cars takes 12 or more gas-guzzling trucks off the roads.  With passenger trains, it's a multitude of automobiles off the highways.   Was I the only one horrified when our government stopped subsidizing the railroads and let them die a slow death?  Couldn't everyone see where that was going to lead?  More trucks, more cars, more roads, more road repairs, more dependence on oil, more and more pollution and the associated illnesses.

In time, as the railroads declined and air freight proved to be too expensive, freeways sliced through cities and divided neighborhoods.  They created traffic jams and brought us unprecedented air and noise pollution.  Trucks are now the bullies of the road and whatever the trucking lobbyists want the lobbyists get.

A local example:  Here in Michigan our Mackinac Bridge is a toll bridge.  A few years ago it was running in the red, succumbing to constant repairs, since Michigan has the highest weight limit on trucks in the nation (164,000 pounds on 11 axles--more than double most states' limits). So someone suggested raising the tolls on trucks.  Boy, howdy, what a stink!  They threatened a boycott of the entire Upper Peninsula, the eastern portion of which can only be reached by that bridge.  We're poor here--and needy.  That's all it took.  They raised the rates on cars, instead, and now we're paying $3.50 one way instead of the $2.00 we paid just a few years ago.  And repair crews and lane closings have become permanent fixtures on our beautiful bridge, thanks to overloaded trucks. 

Our beautiful Mackinac Bridge, complete with resident maintenance equipment.

Michigan's roads are the worst in the nation, thanks to those behemoth trucks traveling our byways and an auto industry abhorrence of rapid transit.  The state's idea of a solution?  Raise gas taxes to pay for road repairs.  Someone even said out loud that the reason we need the trucks is because we don't have a good rail system in Michigan.  So. . .one-two-three, all together now:  That's because you morons tore up the tracks and scrapped the trains!  You had it once.

When they pulled up the rails--the rails that once took us and our goods speedily, efficiently to where we needed to go--and turned the rail beds into hiking trails, I finally gave up all hope and went into the mourning phase.  Railroads, our beloved national identity, became nothing more than sources of scrap metal.  Every now and then we hear squeakings about a return to trains, but really--how likely is that when they would literally have to start building the system from scratch? (And, adding insult to injury, buying the steel from China, since we don't produce enough of it anymore to rebuild anything of any consequence.)

So, back to taking the blame for BP and that now-permanent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  I won't do it.  We do love our selfish indulgences in this country, and we most surely have to learn to curb our impulses and look at the impact on life beyond tomorrow, but to even mention them in the same breath as BP in order to dilute that vile corporation's crass and criminal actions . . .   I'd just like to slap you silly, Friedman and friend.  Get ahold of yourselves.  We don't have time for this.



  1. That is really a stretch. There are times you keep it really simple and I can't even consider any other reason in that BP and Oceanside, together or otherwise, did not have safeguards. There were no relief wells to standby and there is now evidence that is surfacing that they took shortcuts on the concrete that someone "hoped" would be all right. The responsibility is where it should be.
    Although I have to say your idea of dripping sweat into the river... had a resonance.

  2. Nice sentiments on conservation, Ramon, though really, as you suggest, the main things we'd want to do are more in the way of national policy priorities than personal good deeds.

    And the design, construction, and operation of a new, more environmentally sound, less centralized energy infrastructure would be a massive wealth generator. China is doing exactly that. India is a bit farther behind, though they are also moving toward a different energy future.

    I know nuclear is a "third rail" term.

    We really ought to think more about that. With sufficient safeguards, it's probably a useful idea. Controversial? Of course. The French seem to do OK with it - getting somewhere close to 80% of their electricity from it.

    Most of what we can do in the way of hydro, we're doing. Wind and solar, not so much. And tidal and current generation is barely being explored, let alone implemented.

    Rail between city pairs up to maybe 600 miles apart makes lots of sense, especially if it's true, Japan/Europe style high-speed (200+ MPH) rail. At that point it's time-competitive with air travel, once TSA Security Theatre and commuting to an outlying airport are taken into account.

    In cities, even mid-size cities, the emphasis should be on transit-friendliness. I'd be in favor of imposing a surcharge on monthly ramp contracts, too, with the proceeds being dedicated to light rail and bus subsidy.

    Let's also remember, though, that some things can only be sent someplace on a vehicle. Large, heavy objects, things like that. Deliveries will still need to make it to someone's door. Roadscannot be dispensed with, despite some of the "hairshirt-green" contingent's cries.

    Building design and operation, especially commercial buildings, needs rethinking. Especially leaving most of the lights on overnight, when no one's there. (Yes, I know about bird flyways!)

    And the American standard single-family house is one of the least energy-efficient forms of housing I can imagine. That must change, in several ways.

    I don't claim to have all the answers, I just think hybrids and CFLs are not the sum of what we need.

    And since no person would be allowed to go scot-free with no sanctions if they caused some form of disaster (think those who touch off, deliberately or otherwise, forest/range fires in the West) BP must be held responsible for the full extent of the damages they are causing in the Gulf, though capping that damned hole is the first priority.

  3. Alan, I agree that my pathetic attempts at conservation are less than a drop in the bucket. That's really the point. Tom Friedman could find fault with my puny efforts, too, while blaming each of us individually, as if anything we do could even begin to compare with the BP catastrophe and other corporate-owned disasters.

    Nuclear should be considered, and France should be looked at. Every alternative should be looked at.

    Lavish space requirements in commercial buildings, churches or McMansions have to be considered, as well. Do we really need high ceilings, atriums, waterfalls, fountains, and walls of glass?

    But finding ways of transporting goods or people without using such obscene amounts of gas and oil seems to be vital now. We can have trucks waiting at the railroad stations, like we used to do. Then their trips are short and sweet and they're not clogging up freeways and destroying roadbeds. They would be using maybe a tenth of the fuel they use now, and little by little, our dependence on oil would lessen.

    But yes, capping the damned pipe has to come first. (Thanks for commenting.)


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