It’s hard not to turn one’s head from the carnage the Deepwater Horizon oil is wreaking in the Gulf of Mexico.
The loss of human life, the loss of human livelihood, the enormous ecological destruction and loss of ecosystem services, are heartbreaking. The helplessness of British Petroleum and the oil industry to stanch the ongoing eruption of crude from beneath the ocean’s depths is maddening. And the complicity of the oil-besotted U.S. Government is revolting.
A beacon of light in this Hades-like darkness has been New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Last Friday, Herbert used a shockingly naive remark by the President to spotlight the centrality of unfettered corporate power to the Gulf crisis:
“Where I was wrong,” said President Obama at his press conference on Thursday, “was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”
With all due respect to the president, who is a very smart man, how is it possible for anyone with any reasonable awareness of the nonstop carnage that has accompanied the entire history of giant corporations to believe that the oil companies, which are among the most rapacious players on the planet, somehow “had their act together” with regard to worst-case scenarios.
These are not Little Lord Fauntleroys who can be trusted to abide by some fanciful honor system. These are greedy merchant armies drilling blindly at depths a mile and more beneath the seas while at the same time doing all they can to stifle the government oversight that is necessary to protect human lives and preserve the integrity of the environment.
“An Unnatural Disaster,” May 28.
Today, Herbert honed in on solutions, and, finally, embraced a federal carbon tax.
However and whenever the well gets capped, what we really need is leadership that calls on the American public to begin coping in a serious and sustained way with an energy crisis that we’ve been warned about for decades. If the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history is not enough to bring about a reversal of our epic foolishness on the energy front, then nothing will.
The first thing we can do is conserve more. That’s the low-hanging fruit in any clean-energy strategy.
It’s fast, cheap and easy. It’s something that all Americans, young and old, can be asked to participate in immediately. In that sense, it’s a way of combating the pervasive feelings of helplessness that have become so demoralizing and so destructive to our long-term interests…
We also need a carbon tax. The current crisis is the perfect opportunity for our political leaders to explain to the public why this is so important and what benefits would come from it.
“Our Epic Foolishness,” June 1, emphasis added.
Herbert thus joins fellow Times columnists David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman as carbon tax advocates. Friedman, who from time to time has trimmed his carbon-tax sails in favor of cap-and-trade, last Sunday returned to the fold, with first daughter Malia Obama as his foil:
Kids get it. They ask: Why would we want to stay dependent on an energy source that could destroy so many birds, fish, beaches and ecosystems before the next generation has a chance to enjoy them? Why aren’t we doing more to create clean power and energy efficiency when so many others, even China, are doing so? And, Daddy, why can’t you even mention the words “carbon tax,” when the carbon we spill into the atmosphere every day is just as dangerous to our future as the crude oil that has been spilling into the gulf?
“Malia for President,” May 30, emphasis added.
The heartbreaking Gulf disaster would have at least a small silver lining if it moves a national carbon tax toward center stage in the debate over energy and climate policy.
Postscript: A booklet I published after 9/11, Ending The Oil Age, outlining specific steps, including a phased-in hike in the federal gas tax, that could have reduced U.S. petroleum consumption by 10% within six months as a down payment on sustained actions to end U.S. oil dependence, may again be relevant in the wake of the Gulf disaster. Click here to download (pdf).