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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Was the oil spill the best thing to happen to the Oil Industry this year?

     I hate BP. Thats what a lot of people say. It feels nice.

     In Environmental Law and Policy today, in a discussion about who should be held accountable for oil spills it was sweetly and succintly expressed that, of course, it should be the oil companies who pay for the massive, irreversible damage on the oceans when epic disasters like the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the old "if you gave your cousin a dollar and he drove around with it in the back of the truck and it blew out, is it his fault?"

     This argument has been going on for forty years, at least. That's when peak oil was predicted. When people realized that constantly cutting down trees and burning coal might not be the best idea, and it was time to think of something else. 1970.

     Everyone seems to be at a loss about what has actually happened since then. We'll do it in the future, I guess people said. We just can't afford to fund research for cleaner energy, maybe? A measure of the success of Presidents seems to be what gas prices are like while they are in office.

     What's not to hate about BP? I mean- could they have seemed to care less about the oil spill? That jerk of a CEO; the continued lies; the continued attempts to shed blame; spraying dispersants all over the people who had just lost their livelihood to BP. Everyone knows lots of reasons to despise the despicable people who made this happen.

     The beat goes on. Not one person (well, maybe one) in class today suggested that maybe it is the market demand that drives the oil industry rather than some scuzzy CEO. For those not econ-savvy, "market demand" just means that the insanely high demand for oil is simply because we readily and willingly pay for it. We keep lining up at the pumps. Oil companies turn in record profits year after year; not because they are ethical, or responsible, or even market well (seen a gasoline commercial in a while?). Oil is in such high demand and so profitable, that it is worth the extremely high financial risk of drilling for it 2 miles underwater. Even worse, we deploy troops to protect oil interests abroad.

     The oil spill may just have been the best thing to happen to the industry overall all year. They have effectively subsidized the blame -not to the person who drives their Hummer; the average American drives 33.4 miles per day- but easily to the person everyone loves to hate; someone else.

     I'm not flaming any individuals here. We are all just trying to do our best here. Again, we haven't been provided with alternative forms of fuel. But we have to consider why oil is so profitable. We definitely better be talking about what to do to fix it.

     We can however, vote with our dollars and our ballots. I find it absolutely incredible that energy indepence isn't the single greatest initiative of our country, given the obvious importance of it. I don't care what letter is next to a candidates name; he had better be talking about clean energy. What if we spent $1,143,420,630,548 on clean energy since 1991? What would we be driving. That's what we've spent on the war in Iraq, by the way (

     How can we vote with our dollars? Surprisingly, start with food. Your average meal travelled 1000 miles (total, including all ingredients). Then, support public transportation. Carpool, you might just make new friends. Try not to move 100 miles away from where you work. Next time you are stuck in traffic, count the consecutive number of cars in a lane with only one person inside. Last time I did it, the average was about 30 (I was shocked). Not everyone is able to ride a bike everywhere; but if you can, it's a great health decision! People who use public transport weigh an average of 5 pounds less.

     BP might be a bunch of jerks, but we have to remember who pushes the pedal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Alignment and my big green calculator; the keys to happiness?

     Tonight University of Cincinnati sustainability had a workshop about vegetarian and vegan eating. With Carrie's (another Sustainability Advocate) help as the other moderator, we started the conversation about why to become vegetarian or vegan with the group. This is a question that vegetarians and vegans have to deal with regularly. Two weeks ago, at a film showing for "The Cove" someone asked "if we're just going to destroy all of the fish anyways, why should we care?" Well, what is the reason that you do anything at all?

     I had prepared a lengthy response to the question about why I'm a vegetarian. I tried to imagine an answer that could really encompass the many many reasons. My friend Page recently blogged about it. Quite frankly, it is of course a personal choice. I think that Kayla (thanks!) said it best in reference to one of the holiest men ever to live:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  Gandhi (link to more gandi)

     Basically, if you align your morality with your actions, you will find yourself quite happy. I have to say this is true for me, for example, when I have taken a great deal to find locally grown produce, prepare it in a carefully selective fashion, and come to enjoy something that is not only delicious and healthy but also (personally) morally sound and sustainable. To each their own.

     This has obvious implications to many areas in each of our lives. To me, it is the reason that I recycle every last object, compost everything that I can, and attempt to reuse every last scrap of the rest. It is the reason that, in fact, why I write these blogs.


     According to, the "ecological footprint" calculator used for wikipedia's Ecological footprint article, it would take 3.4 earths to sustain our current global population if everyone lived exactly like me. I require 15.3 global acres of productive land to produce 14.2 tons of carbon monoxide per year. That sounds like a lot, but compared to the average American at 8.00 (United Arab Emirates tops the list at 10.68), I make less than half the impact. What makes up most of that figure? Natural gas and electricity. It becomes evident in the discussion of global average (1.4) that highly industrialized, gas and coal burning countries like the US are the main source for the global climate shift. Tough pill to swallow. 

    Even harder to consider is what it would be like without gas or electric. I had initially planned to go for a week with no gas or electricity for a week in January, but for several reasons I have to wait. First, my landlord has made me aware that if I was to turn off my heat this week that I could potentially rupture plumbing by allowing the water in the pipes to freeze. This week the weather reports suggest average temperatures below freezing. But, I will be turning off for good the first week with average temps above freezing. Then once spring comes I will be turning it off for good. Maybe that's crazy, but just maybe, it might bring me a lot of happines...

     (Have some more more enviromental quotes if you would like)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"No Impact Week"

     Reading Music: Ben Harper "My Own Two Hands"  
     Colin Beavey was asked in No Impact Man if there was one thing that people should do differently - be it to stop drinking bottled water, change their lightbulbs, stop drinking coffee, etc. - what would that one thing be? His response was maybe a little surprising to some of those who asked this question. He said that everyone should volunteer or participate in a sustainability event in their own community. It is removing ourselves from our communities that allows us to shed accountability for one another, and begin to act irresponsibly towards our collective environment.

     There were several things that I took away from Colin's documentary. Naturally, I found that it was important to watch his documentary as part of the beginning of my year-long initiative. I expected to find a nice model of how exactly to accomplish an almost impossible goal of a zero carbon footprint. I expected, perhaps, to see a very outlandish person doing very extreme things. What I found instead was a very normal guy, along with his wife and kids, on this adventure that even they didn't understand. I found a family, following dad's conscious, in a "working relationship" which was figuring it all out as they went, and dealing with the difficulties as they came in a positive, objective, and constructive way.

     I have been asked a few times if my project here is a new years resolution. I have a few problems with that. First of all, new years resolutions have a temporary connotation. I'm not resolving to reduce my footprint this year. I'm resolving to reduce my footprint permanently. This year, I'm going to measure it- yes- that means that I might do some things this year that I can't do forever. Just as Colin had to turn his electricity back on to survive the winter- so will I. The main thing is that I'm using this challenge to transform my life in a very real and positive way, and I don't expect to stop trying to improve wherever I can after that year ends. As a scientist and environmentalist, I am choosing to live in alignment with my values that I need to respect nature. With my own two hands...

     YES! Magazine and No Impact Man this week have teamed together for "no impact week" this week. If you want to know more here's a link to a video about it. I'd love to hear if any of my readers decide to try it. Also, if you are looking for more opportunities to volunteer or participate in sustainable initiatives here in Cincinnati, I know of a few, just e-mail me.

     Next week, I'll have some actual numbers to put up as well as information about how the carbon calculator I will be using works. I'll look forward to then, and thanks for reading!