David Suzuki: More drilling, more disasters, unless we all do our part

The Gulf of Mexico disaster is just the latest in a long history of "accidents".

As Canada considers drilling for oil in the Arctic now that ice seems to be less of an impediment, we should remember that in October 1970, a blowout at a natural gas well on King Christian Island in the Arctic Ocean created a massive flame as up to 5.6 million cubic metres of gas a day spewed for more than three months. It was the second blowout in the Arctic since drilling began the year before.

Around the same time, the drilling consortium, Panarctic Oil Ltd., was slapped with a huge fine for dumping junk steel, waste oil, and other garbage into the Arctic Ocean.

The drilling companies found a novel solution to the latter problem: they convinced the federal government of the day to issue ocean dumping permits, making the practice legal and common until 1993, when the Inuit challenged one of the permits.

Oil industry people are fond of claiming that practices and technology are improving, that we don’t have to worry any more—and then, boom, we get another disaster like the one in the Gulf of Mexico or the recent Enbridge pipeline leak in Michigan.

Often, the initial reaction of industry folks is to downplay the incidents. In the Arctic, a small population means that fewer people notice the disasters and pollution. It’s harder to ignore in a heavily populated area like the Gulf Coast of the U.S. and Mexico.

Still, the industry does what it can to keep people in the dark. According to Alabama’s Press-Register newspaper, BP has been trying to buy scientists working on oil and marine issues in the Gulf. As the paper’s Ben Raines reports, “BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university”.

The newspaper obtained a copy of the contract the oil company was offering to scientists. “It prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.” This would prevent these scientists from testifying in any legal action brought against BP for the catastrophe.

If we were to allow stepped-up drilling and exploration in the Arctic, or off the B.C. coast, we could expect more of these kinds of disasters in sensitive ecosystems. And, as I’ve often pointed out, what we do to the oceans, we do to ourselves. We depend on the oceans for our survival—for our food and our oxygen and for so much more.

But we can’t lay all the blame on the fossil fuel companies. They’re just doing their job, fuelling an ever-increasing demand. They may appear to act with the scruples of crack dealers, but we’re all contributing to the global petro-economy.

As demand for energy continues to grow, we can expect governments and industry to seek out fossil fuels from ever more remote, dirty, and dangerous sources.

And yet, how many of us are willing to make changes in our own lives to cut back on our use of fossil fuels? The Gulf of Mexico situation is horrendous, but the amount of oil represents only about one quarter of the world’s daily consumption. That means every day we consume four times more oil than that spilled in the Gulf, spewing the associated crap into the atmosphere, rivers and lakes, and oceans.

But as I look out the window of my office, I see a steady stream of SUVs, trucks, and cars—most of them with just a driver and no passengers and many of them driven for the convenience of avoiding walking or taking a bus.

We must convince governments and industry leaders to invest more in clean-energy solutions and to put certain areas off limits to oil exploration, drilling, and shipping, but we also must all take personal responsibility for the fossil fuel–related disasters, from blow-outs to climate change. We and our world would be healthier if we relied less on our cars and more on transit, bicycles, and our feet. We can also educate ourselves about other ways to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, such as using fewer plastic bags and disposable plastic products and insulating our homes.

We’re all a part of the problem and of the solution.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



closer yet to home

Aug 10, 2010 at 10:08pm

TransLink is supporting off-shore drilling by doing its bit to buy as much diesel fuel as possible by operating diesel buses on the 99 B-Line route which happens to be taking electric non-GHG trolley buses off the road because the 99 B-Lines use the # 17 trolley bus route. TransLink you stink.

Ken Barth

Aug 11, 2010 at 9:42am

But the carbon tax will fix everything, right David?

Good news from Portugal

Aug 11, 2010 at 2:45pm

"Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects — primarily harnessing the country’s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves.

Today, Lisbon’s trendy bars, Porto’s factories and the Algarve’s glamorous resorts are powered substantially by clean energy. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.

Land-based wind power — this year deemed “potentially competitive” with fossil fuels by the International Energy Agency in Paris — has expanded sevenfold in that time. And Portugal expects in 2011 to become the first country to inaugurate a national network of charging stations for electric cars." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/science/earth/10portugal.html?partner=...

Brie Oishi

Aug 11, 2010 at 11:47pm

David Suzuki & Faisal Moola: Yes, we all are a part of the problem and should also partake in cleaning up the mess we created. But many citizens and government officials are still in denial about the toxicity in the air we are breathing.
Unfortunately, here on the Lower Mainland we are lacking the sound and efficient public transportation system as is present in Europe (I am familiar with the German one) but if we had such, would it really work for us? Would people truly make good use out of it?

There are still too many individuals in love with the fastness of the automobile and as long as the government does not see fit to provide a proper system to transport the public to and fro in a reasonable time, connecting the suburbs and outskirts with the heart of Vancouver, we will not see much relief in the pollution the automobile causes. Unless of course, the electric car is catching on real quick and visual pleasing models will be made available.

In the meantime we just need to control pollution the best we can by eliminating other toxic fumes. We could stop building INCINERATORS for one; stop smoking tobacco and other products that produce smoke; stop using fire pits and BBQs, they all are producing smoke and add to the allover amount of air pollution. Just as many pennies will build a healthy bank account; so will all the bits of toxic smoke lead up to polluting the environment and add to global warming.

We also could stop using wood burning fireplaces and have them replaced with gas; at least then people have a cleaner option to keep warm in the winter when the electricity fails. And for those, who look upon the flicker of flames as romantic and cozy, a gas fueled fireplace will provide exactly that and more. It is much easier on ones conscience; one will not have to feel guilty about polluting the air with PM 2.5 and all the other hundred, something, chemicals contained in wood-smoke emissions. All of these toxins are linked to many respiratory and lung diseases; including cancer.
If we stopped burning wood, we all would contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment.