Easter Island and Oil Spills

May 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Two days after the Louisiana oil rig disaster of April 20th, I was working the Southern Energy Network’s Earth Day table on the University of Georgia campus, spreading the word about our organization and asking students to sign a petition against the building of a new coal plant in Sandersville, Georgia. Support for our cause was overwhelming as almost every student, member of faculty and staff happily signed our petition and voiced their interest in cleaner energy solutions. Despite the positive energy radiating from the university, there was one sobering voice that continues to play through my head, especially in light of President Obama’s decision to push on with offshore drilling after the April 20th oilrig explosion disaster. One student was less than enthused about our initiative to combat the new coal plant, not because she disagreed with our cause, but because she didn’t believe that the federal or local government would ever change its policies to favor cleaner energy solutions. She refused to sign our petitions, and after seeing Obama’s response to the Louisiana oil spill, I sympathize with her frustration.

As if one student’s falling out with our political system wasn’t sobering enough, I recently picked up A New Green History of the World by Clive Ponting, which chronicles the fall of civilizations throughout history due to environmental destruction. In the first chapter of his book, Ponting discusses the history of Easter Island and the fall of the highly advanced pre-Colombian society due to deforestation. In order to transport the large, head-shaped stone statues characteristic of their culture, the Easter Islanders chopped down such a large percentage of trees that they were forced to take steps backwards technologically in order to survive: they could no longer construct canoes or houses, losing their main source of transportation and forcing them to dwell in caves. More importantly, they could no longer grow sufficient crops due to the lack of nutrients in the soil caused by the massive deforestation. Because of their lack of foresight, the Easter Islanders lost an entire civilization and culture, leaving future generations confused as to the origins of the massive stone sculptures dotting the island as well as unable to pick up the pieces due to over-exhausted and mineral-deficient lands. As I read about the grim fate of later generations of Easter Islanders, I couldn’t help but think about the disrespectful way the environment is being treated on a more global scale today. Mountains are leveled for coal excavation, deforestation in places like Latin America is causing irreversible damage to ecosystems and causing climate change due to the release of immense amount of carbon dioxide, and oilrigs like the one that recently exploded off our shores threaten wildlife and coastal communities.

A few weeks ago, there was an explosion on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana—an explosion that caused eleven crew members to go missing and is currently spilling 42,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Despite the disaster’s threat to the ecosystems of both the Gulf of Mexico and the costal regions of Florida and Louisiana, President Obama has not been deterred from using offshore drilling as a means of curbing our dependence on foreign oil. He has, however, imposed a moratorium on oil leases until the cause of the spill has been identified and safety measures can be implemented on other oilrigs to prevent more spills.

If you ask me, a moratorium on oilrig leases simply isn’t enough.

We cannot blame this on a lack of technology or scientific understanding, nor can we blame it on the apathy of citizens or their refusal to participate in government processes. I see a clear disconnect between an understanding of the problems associated with dirty energy and the inability to leave the comfort of status quo living powered by dirty energies. Our government understands the impact of climate change so well that it has been one of the more important issues in the Senate this year, and yet little progress seems to be made. Instead of offering sizable incentives to corporations who start to wean themselves off dirty energy or putting money into making wind, solar and geothermal power available on the large scale, Obama chooses to put a Band-aid on the issue by trumpeting nuclear power and offshore drilling.  We cannot think about curbing our dependency on foreign oil alone—we need to think about curbing our dependency on oil, period. The growing danger that this oil spill is causing to the wildlife and fishing industry off the coast of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida should be evidence enough that pushing forward with more offshore drilling is not the answer. The Gulf Coast needs our support as we transition away from domestic oil drilling and toward a future powered by clean energy.

Photo: NASA. Oil spill seen from space. Reposted from Treehugger.com. Public Domain.

The history of Easter Island is a foreboding story for me, and I can’t help but see connections between the lack of foresight of their pre-Colombian civilization and the blind eye turned by our legislators and leaders everyday toward environmental issues. How long will we have to wait before the situation is dire enough to entice our leaders into implementing the action and change desired by so many citizens? How many more oil spills have to endanger our coasts before we decide that the money used to clean our oceans would be better served in implementing sustainable and clean energy? This is no longer a matter of can and cannot, but a matter of will and will not. The technologies are there to implement change tomorrow, but without the support of our leaders we may end up feeling just as silenced and helpless as the student on the University of Georgia campus. We cannot let ourselves be bullied into silence by the inaction and convoluted messages of our legislators. Our voices should not fall on deaf ears or be discounted after the election season, only to be heard once again when politicians feel it is convenient. If you ask me, there is no greater convenience than being able to maintain our lives in a sustainable way without the fear of skyrocketing oil prices, climate change and environmental peril clouding our minds. Let’s speak up now and send a clear message that the oil disaster plaguing the Louisiana coast is serious enough and important enough to start a clear and permanent change.

Submitted by Laura Chance, a student at the University of Georgia

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Entry filed under: southern energy network.

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