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Oil, Sustainability, and Our Wilderness

This past summer was a constant reminder to me that our use of oil is completely unsustainable.  It seems like most people go about their daily lives while not understanding or caring about the ramifications of the ongoing quest for oil. 

We forget that oil is a finite resource, yet our demand for oil continues to increase because we treat it like an infinite resource.  Our waste of oil is incredible: we drive cars that are too big, we make plastic bags and containers out of oil that we use once and then throw away, many of our products are shipped to market in the most inefficient manner possible, and there are many other examples.  And the political maneuverings of many countries, especially China and India, are increasingly oriented around acquiring more resources, especially oil and food supplies.  But what worries me the most is that as demand for oil has increased we are willing to go to increasing lengths while turning a blind eye to the damage being done to wilderness worldwide.  Here are a few examples that I’ve been paying attention to.

Alberta's tar sandsAlberta’s tar sands are a perfect example of how in our race for more oil we are being forced to extract oil from increasingly inefficient, and damaging, sources.  And it’s being done with the full support of the Canadian government.  The lack of environmental ethics behind these projects, and the careful screening and refutation of any argument against them, is disturbing to say the least.

gulf of mexico oil spillThe Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused widespread damage in the Gulf of Mexico, and was the biggest oil spill ever.  We should be asking ourselves why we have to drill 1.5km below the surface of the ocean to get oil.  The reason?  Because oil that is easy to extract is either already gone or under the control of questionable countries and regimes.  The lack of controls and standards demonstrated during this spill by the oil industry and the U.S. government is frankly inexcusable.  Standards have to be raised, because the Deepwater Horizon was only one of approximately 2000 rigs designed for deepwater drilling.  The pressure for deepwater drilling isn’t going to go away, especially with Brazil’s discovery of a huge oil reservoir off its coast.

parrots at clay lickWhat really shocked me this past summer however was learning first-hand about the threat to Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rainforest.  My family and I visited Ecuador in June; we stayed near this park and saw a huge flock of wild parrots feeding at a clay lick on the edge of the park.  Yasuni is the Amazon basin’s largest reserve and is considered the most biologically diverse area on the planet, yet there are already oil and mining operations within the park.  And Petrobas, the national oil of company of Brazil, recently discovered Ecuador’s largest deposit of oil in Yasuni.  The temptation to extract it is intense; Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, wants $350 million per year for the next ten years to leave the oil in Yasuni untouched.  But Yasuni is worth it.  See for more information.   This is yet another example of our demand for oil going too far and without ethics.

What can you do?

  • Start with what you can control: reduce your use of oil!
  • Don’t vote for governments with poor environmental ethics, and make sure politicians are aware why you aren’t voting for them.
  • Pressure businesses and governments to stop crazy projects and practices.  This includes everything from minor things like reducing packaging, eliminating oil-based plastic bags and containers, to being a voice against the tar sands, deepwater drilling, and drilling in Yasuni park.
  • Write a letter to your government and urge them to support Yasuni national park.  That is a place we need to save!
  • Make sure you pay attention: when someone claims there is no global warming, or that the tar sands, deepwater drilling, or drilling in the middle of a jungle are perfectly safe they’re probably paid big money to say that.  Get the facts yourself.
  • Support alternative forms of energy like solar and wind.  If we took half the money that is spent extracting oil from the tar sands, the ocean depths, and treasures like Yasuni national park we would make an incredible amount of progress on using sustainable forms of energy.
  • Support measures to increase the price of oil, like carbon taxes.  Yes, I know this means we will pay more for gas, but ultimately this is the only way we will reduce our dependence on oil.
  • Donate to causes and organizations that fight the most damaging projects.  There are lots of them.
  • And last of all, don’t give up!

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