I was watching the news the other day, and there in the middle of yet another agonizing and depressing report about the catastrophic Gulf oil spill appeared a person whose name I didn't catch. All I noticed was that he was identified as "oil economist."
Here is a paraphrase of what he said: "The revenue that can be generated from the oil produced by these deep wells is much greater than the cost to the environment of one spill. It would take hundreds of oil spills like this to produce any measurable economic impact on the environment."
The reporter didn't question him or follow up on this outrageous statement. How in the world did this "oil economist" calculate the monetary worth of an entire ecosystem? I admit I'm not an economist and don't understand the arcane formulas he might have used to measure the value of intangibles, but something tells me this fellow is either being paid to say these things by somebody who will financially benefit from the sale of this oil, or he is living his life in a sealed-up ivory tower.
We are witnesses to one of the greatest ecological catastrophes of all time, and it should be obvious to all who are watching or directly experiencing this tragedy that the coast, the wetlands and the oceans themselves are valuable in ways that defy a simplistic cost-benefit analysis.
It's offensive for "oil economists" to presume to know how to calculate the value of something as vast as an ocean or as fragile and important as a wetlands. This complex system--of which we, oil producers and consumers alike, are integral components--is showing us everyday what it is like to be part of an integrated whole whose parts cannot be separated or valued separately.
How much would you pay for one clean wetlands area? How about a flock of brown pelicans? How about one healthy turtle? What is a fair price for a clean, working ecological system on which we, and the world we are a part of, depends?
There has been a lot of finger-pointing and blame-making during this incident, but I am looking in the mirror, and I urge you to do the same. How much do you spend on gas each week? How much oil do you and your family consume? Are you willing to change your lifestyle to find ways to lessen or even eliminate our dependence on a petroleum-based economy?
Several years ago, my husband and I moved to a new neighborhood. One of the reasons we chose this location is that it allowed each of us to walk or bike to work. A Metro station is a mile away (a bit of a brisk walk, but it's good exercise) and the bus line runs right outside our door. We put our cars away and often they sit, unused, for days at a time. I still use my too-large Buick to go to the grocery story and run errands, and I would like to trade it in for a hybrid, but nothing (yet) has tipped me past the point of dithering about whether or when to buy a new, more fuel-efficient car.
I've done a lot to lessen my use of petroleum, but I think I can do more. All I have to do is look at any newspaper to see another picture of the devastation wrought by this oil spill to know that I need--soon--to find an answer to this question: what price am I willing to pay for a pristine wetlands or a clean ocean?