Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Price For A Wetlands?

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?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post.

    It seems to me that the mechanisms of capitalism and corporations actually forces oil companies to prioritize economy over ecology. This is something that the authorities and the public must keep in mind when dealing with these matters. The very reason an oil company exists is to make money by pumping and selling oil, not conserving the environment. The latter is something they only do when it brings extra profit in a short time-perspective.

    It must unfortunately be noted that oil spills are an everyday affair in other parts of the world ( http://www.undispatch.com/node/9971 ), where oil companies have bought the support of local authorities, and can do their work quickly and easily, with devastating side-effects.

    At some point we have to say that enough is enough. We can't accept a society built on draining and destroying the planet. We have to work hard, and now, towards an oil and coal-free world.

    Kudos to you for leaving your car at home. I hope more will follow in your tracks.

    Keep up the good blogging!
    Best regards, Pål (from Norway, hence the weird letter :-) )