Gareth Huw Davies

Environment Blog

So is this the BP, the "beyond petroleum" moment?

So is this the BP, the “beyond petroleum” moment?

Whoever is right and wrong here, a British company that employs more Americans than Britons, drilling to a lax US regulatory regime, being attacked by a US president who began his term inspiring high hopes in anybody concerned with the health of the planet, but who then found his green vision blurred by the same old US politics –  isn’t this the moment when we change gear and find new ways to power the planet?

I’m reassured that people like Thomas Friedman are trying to change opinion in the US, in a piece in the New York Times this week (June 11, 2010), he quoted a letter to the press from his friend Mark Mykleby, who works in the Pentagon.

“I’d like to join in on the blame game,” said Mykleby.”This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle.”

Friedman continues: “We – both parties – created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people’s lives.  And we – both parties – sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price. (Of course, we expected them to take care, but when you’re drilling for oil beneath 5,000 feet of water, stuff happens.)

“We have to use this window of opportunity to … get serious about fixing the problems that we can control. We need to make our whole country more sustainable.

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, but a reprieve and a breathing spell – which is what we’re having right now – is a really terrible thing to waste. We don’t want to look back on this moment and say: How could we have gone back to business as usual and petty political gridlocks with all those black swans circling around us? Then we will really kick ourselves.”