Month 5, Day 5: Pleading With The Powers That Be

Continuing on this theme — this time writing to the Climate/Energy bill trio. Please write some letters yourself!

Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham —

It should be obvious to you that offshore drilling is no longer a viable option for America’s energy policy. We have delayed long enough — it is time for America to confront, and end, its addiction to fossil fuels. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon is just the latest in a steady stream of catastrophes which illuminate the unfortunate fact that oil and coal are not cheap sources of energy. Fossil energy is only cheap when we don’t include the costs of cleanup, of health effects, of long-term ecological damage, and the expensive wars we wage to protect our sources. Renewable energy sources are only expensive when we don’t consider the benefits of positive environmental effects, more locally-based energy sources, greater reliance on conservation and efficiency, and avoiding some of the worst effects of CO2-induced atmospheric warming.

The Deepwater Horizon is a signal event in the history of our energy policy. It must be recognized as a clarion call to our nation’s citizenry, an “Environmental 9-11” that alerts us to the terrifying consequences of continued reliance on fossil energy.

America needs to wake up and face reality. Are you going to continue to offer sops to the oil and coal lobbies…or are you going to take the necessary steps to transform our energy equation once and for all? Our descendants’ lives hang in the balance.

For once, Senators…do the right thing.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 4: Schwarzenegger is Now Opposed To Offshore Drilling. Mr. President?

Okay, I’ll send another letter to the President. Why not?

Dear President Obama — It is becoming clearer by the day that offshore drilling for oil is too high-risk an activity. The idea that fossil fuels are inherently cheaper than renewable energy sources is now as obsolete as the phlogiston theory of combustion. Oil and coal are only cheap if we don’t count the enormous costs of cleanup, public health effects, and environmental/climatic impacts (not to mention all those expensive wars we wage to protect our oil sources). Renewables are only expensive if we don’t count the value inherent in an unspoiled environment, in benign climatic effects, and no longer spending billions of dollars every year propping up the big oil companies.

As the Deepwater Horizon disaster shows us, we can no longer afford the potential negative impacts of offshore drilling. This catastrophe makes it crystal clear what was obvious to some of us quite some time ago: there is no room at the negotiating table for Big Oil, for they have abdicated their responsibilities to the citizens of the USA, and of the world.

Please reinstate the ban on offshore drilling immediately.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 3: Sometimes I Hate Writing These Letters

Time Magazine also has a piece on the oil disaster, so they get another version of the letter I sent to Newsweek.

One good thing about a disaster — everybody covers it, so I have no problem finding a hook for a letter.

Frankly, I’d just as soon have to look for hours to find something worth writing about. The latest projections suggest that the Deepwater Horizon spill is going to dwarf the Valdez in another couple of days. Horrible.

The list of recent disasters attendant on fossil fuels is profoundly depressing: a Chinese coal ship fouling the Great Barrier Reef; a mine explosion in West Virginia; the Deepwater Horizon, pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico at accelerating rates, with some projections describing flow equivalent to an Exxon Valdez every two days. And where is that oil coming from? Almost a mile underwater — too deep for divers. The results of this monumental corporate irresponsibility are beyond catastrophic; the Gulf of Mexico will be a petro-Chernobyl for decades to come. Communities and ecosystems are devastated; oyster beds that provided steadily for over a century are already lost. Towns and businesses that depend on fishing are facing death sentences. What will we learn from our latest catastrophe? If we are lucky, we will finally understand that fossil energy is anything but cheap, and that our collective survival depends on getting off our destructive addiction to oil and coal as soon as possible. BP, alas, must now stand for “Broken Planet.”

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 2: We Don’t Need No Education

More on the Deepwater Horizon. This one goes to Newsweek, which has an article on how the spill is going to affect the future of offshore drilling.

The fate of hundreds of communities and multiple ecosystems now hangs in the balance as a toxic oil slick begins to wash up on the coastlines of Louisiana and Florida. The Deepwater Horizon spill is both a crisis of terrifying proportions and a testament to human folly and hubris.

The crucial question is, “What will we learn from this disaster?” Will we learn that we need to wean ourselves from oil as rapidly as possible — or will we learn that communities and ecosystems are expendable? Will we learn that there is more energy to be saved through eliminating waste than there is to be found under the seabed — or will we learn that conservation (in the words of Dick Cheney) can “never be the basis of a sound energy policy”? Will we learn that when we include the costs of cleaning up spills and mitigating the worst effects of climate change, oil is not cheap, but horribly expensive?

We can no longer afford disasters of this magnitude. How many more Deepwater Horizons will it take before we learn that we’re better off leaving that oil in the Earth, and moving to a renewable-energy economy?

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 23: Don’t Drill, Baby! Don’t Drill!

The program of exploratory drilling off the US coastline that was announced earlier by President Obama was the subject of a beautiful and poignant post by DK’s R.L.Miller. Go read it. She urges people to participate in this program:

The U.S. Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service, invites interested parties to participate in the 2012-2017 Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Program Environmental Impact Statement (2012-2017 OCS Oil and Gas Programmatic EIS) scoping process. The scoping process is intended to involve all interested agencies (Federal, state, county, and local), public interest groups, Native American tribes, businesses, and members of the public. The public scoping period started with the publication of the Notice of Intent in the Federal Register.

The purpose of the public scoping process is to determine relevant issues that will influence the scope of the environmental analysis and the alternatives. Comments on the relationship between the Oil and Gas Program and the Alternative Energy Program are also welcome. Comments will be accepted at public scoping meetings, by mail, and electronically through a public comment form on this Web site.

In other words, go to the MMS site and object vociferously to the proposed Exploratory Drilling program. There’s a form there. As usual, I encourage you to use my words, paraphrasing as necessary. Object! Object! Object! The offshore drilling program is a piece of delusional chicanery that needs to be stopped.

Here’s what I wrote; I will submit this electronically and with a hard copy in the mail.

I write to express very strong objections to exploratory oil drilling anywhere off the U.S. coast, but especially on the Atlantic seaboard. There are numerous reasons why the proposed program should be shelved.

First: the issue of safety, for humans, oceanic ecosystems and coastlines.

Within the past month, there have been two oil disasters on the Atlantic seaboard, only one of which received any coverage in the media. An 18,000 gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was barely noticed, arguably because the news release was controlled by the Coast Guard, the state of Louisiana and the pipeline operator, Cypress Pipe Line Company. The April 6 spill covered about 120 square miles and affected a significant portion of a National Wildlife Refuge, home to a variety of animals, and an important nursery for both freshwater and saltwater fish. A few days later, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded while doing exploratory drilling about 50 miles out, eventually collapsing into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil released from this catastrophe is likely to reach the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The promises of accident-free and ecologically neutral exploratory drilling are unrealistic pipe dreams, as a little study shows.

According to Minerals Management Service records, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf in the past nine years. Not so safe.

Second: the issue of long-term sustainability.

It is by now accepted knowledge that the point of diminishing returns on fossil fuel exploitation has probably been reached. The future of energy no longer is the province of oil and coal, for not only are we at the “peak oil” point already, it is irrefutable that the overconsumption of oil and coal has dangerously increased atmospheric CO2, laying the foundation for catastrophic global warming. The essential processes of developing renewable energy technology need to happen as fast as possible if America and the world are to survive the coming centuries, and hunting for more oil to burn is a dangerous distraction. We need to stop putting carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to stop wasting the fossil fuel reserves we have. A well-managed efficiency initiative would probably save more fuel per annum than we could find with exploratory drilling programs.

Third: the likelihood of financial mismanagement and possible fraud.

In theory, drilling on leased lands generates income, thus benefiting taxpayers. In theory. In practice, a recent GAO audit revealed that the Mineral Management Service often fails to accurately track production of oil and gas leases on federal land. In some cases, oil companies are taking advantage of a badly written 1995 statute to avoid paying any royalties at all for drilling on public lands.

Fourth: the ethical implications of abandoning a science-based energy policy in favor of one built around political expediency.

President Obama explicitly campaigned on a promise to respect science (something completely inconceivable under the Bush administration). After the election he even wrote a memo on scientific integrity. But in October 2009, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration warned the President to exclude the Atlantic seaboard from offshore drilling — and he ignored that warning in his March 31, 2010 announcement of the exploratory drilling program. The NOAA further recommended caution in drilling off the environmentally sensitive Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and that recommendation was also ignored.

The administration’s failure to live up to its own promises of respect for basic science may be a sop to powerful energy interests, but it is a terrible disappointment to those of us who expected higher standards of intellectual integrity.

The reasons for the exploratory drilling program? I can think of one: it will make big oil companies happier.

Frankly, that’s not a very good reason to proceed with an initiative that has high failure risks, is virtually certain to cause severe environmental damage, enables a climatically damaging national addiction to oil, holds enormous potential for fraud, waste and abuse, and runs counter to everything this administration claimed to stand for.

Sincerely Yours,

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 2: Recycling is Important!

I took my letter to the POTUS from yesterday, did a bunch of tweaking, added a little dig about leaf-blowers and wars, and sent it off to my local paper, the Medford Transcript.

I’d love to believe that President Obama’s decision to encourage offshore oil drilling is only a part of a more sweeping political strategy which will confuse the Republican opposition, leaving them no choice but to support policy initiatives which will ultimately focus much more on alternative and renewable energy sources. Our national addiction to cheap fossil energy means that in order to power our SUVs, flatscreens, leafblowers and wars, we’re taking carbon out of the earth and putting it into the atmosphere, causing potentially catastrophic warming effects, of which the recent flood-level rains are just one example. The last thing we need is to further expand oil and coal use!

The surprise announcement of this component of an Obama energy policy reminds me of the build-up to the passage of health-care legislation, in which Democrats abandoned progressive positions before negotiations began, stripping out many of the reforms we needed most desperately. The problem with basing climate legislation on strategic exigencies is that we need a policy that’s based on climatic reality, not political gamesmanship. The window of opportunity for our species is rapidly closing; there is very little “later” available.

While I appreciate the complexity of President Obama’s dilemma, I am dismayed by the latest turn of events. The President needs to focus our national attention on the requirements of sustainable energy, conservation, and the urgency of reducing our individual and national carbon footprints. There is no time to lose, and none to waste.

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 1: April Fools!

Yesterday’s news that our President wants to allow offshore drilling motivated me to generate a mid-week blast.

Dear President Obama – I certainly hope that your decision to encourage offshore drilling is part of a larger political strategy that will culminate in a vastly expanded program of investment in alternative and renewable energy.

I’m willing to accept that an energy program can include increased extraction of oil resources, but those resources won’t last for long. If humanity is to have a chance of surviving the coming climate crisis, we must find ways to meet our energy needs that do not involve taking carbon out of the earth and putting it into the atmosphere. We are already killing our planet. Burning oil and coal is accelerating the process.

Perhaps this component of your energy program is part of a strategy which will confuse the Republican opposition, leaving them no choice but to support policy initiatives which will ultimately focus much more on alternative and renewable energy sources. I certainly hope so. I am afraid, however, that it is a repeat of some of the worst things that happened during the build-up to the passage of your health-care legislation — giving away a progressive negotiating position before negotiations have begun, whittling away at what’s left until hardly anything remains, then passing legislation that’s been gutted of almost everything we need with enormous ballyhoo.

Sound cynical? I’m afraid I am. While passing health legislation was an enormous triumph, the fact is that many of the reforms we needed most desperately were stripped out well in advance. When this happened to health-care legislation, we (your progressive supporters) were able to adjust, saying, “we’ll fix it later.”

But Mr. President, the problem with climate legislation is that there is not much “later” for us to work within. The window of opportunity for our species is rapidly closing.

Please focus more of your attention on the requirements of sustainable energy, conservation, and the urgency of reducing our individual and national carbon footprints. There is no time to lose, and none to waste.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders