Nostra-Drill-Us

It’s also possible, of course, that it will prove to be impossible to stop the oil blowout. In that case, the Gulf of Mexico may be completely ruined for centuries. In that terrible case, the odds of an uprising increase substantially, as the elite palliatives will be very hard to sell, even in this TV-addicted land.

nostradamus A comrade at The Oil Drum, watching British Petroleum’s attempts to stop the catastrophic Horizon Deepwater blowout with drilling mud, wrote:

I do think that when this whole tense episode is finally over and done with, it just might turn out to be one of those truly defining moments that changes our collective view about energy and what we’re willing to pay to keep getting it in the ways we’ve taken for granted.

That would be grand. But I would wager very heavily against it. Substantially reducing our oil acquisition efforts would be a grave threat to cars-first transportation in the United States. Threatening cars-first transportation is threatening corporate capitalism, which could not survive the loss of the automotive-industrial sector. Hence, there will be intense, coordinated efforts to pour political mud down our windpipes if and when control over the undersea gusher arrives.

For what it’s worth, as posted at TOD, here is my own prediction of what will happen after the blowout gets sealed or the relief wells come on line in August or September:

What makes you think our collective view is going to start receiving consideration? Nothing could be more threatening to the continuance of corporate capitalism. There will be much hand-wringing, a few monkey trials, and another toughening of the regulations. Then deep-water drilling will resume in full. Nothing else is possible, barring a major social upheaval.

This is just a 6-month whirlpool in the status quo.

I pray I’m wrong here, but that’s my assessment.

It’s also possible, of course, that it will prove to be impossible to stop the oil blowout, or that Top Kill and/or the relief wells will make the blowout worse. In that case, the Gulf of Mexico may be completely ruined for centuries to come, if it isn’t already. In that terrible case, the odds of an uprising increase substantially, as the elite palliatives will be very hard to sell, even in this distracted, TV-addicted land.

As to the rest of the residents of the region, seems to me this will put more fuel in the tank of the Latin American left. How will Mexico and Colombia, for instance, be able to cope with the consequences of a dying Gulf while also preserving their radically inegalitarian and hidebound socio-political orders? How will US overlords be able to continue punishing and demonizing Cuba and Venezuela in the face of the extreme damages and hardships they are sure to face? Hugo and Fidel didn’t cause this Eco-Fuck. Our own naked emperors did, undeniably.

How Cute

Don’t get me wrong. The fact that 40 children a year get cooked or asphyxiated in automobiles is no laughing matter. I’m sure none suffered that fate while sitting on buses or trains. And however many died while walking or biking were certainly overwhelmingly killed by an automobile.

tbone crash A recent press release from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers:

For Immediate Release:
April 13, 2010
Contact:
Alliance: Wade Newton: (202) 326-5571
Safe Kids: Kate Jones: (202) 662-4478

Washington, DC – The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers today announced that it has joined Safe Kids USA and more than 40 other interested organizations in efforts to increase awareness and urge parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a vehicle. In an attempt to make 2010 a year when no more children die from heat stroke by being “forgotten” in a car, safety experts and child advocates remind parents and caregivers to always check for sleeping children before leaving a vehicle.

“I grew up in the southwest and I can say for sure, cracking a window is not enough,” said
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Safe Kids USA is dedicated to preventing unintentional injury to children. With the help of more than 600 coalitions nationwide, Safe Kids USA works to improve the safety of kids by educating families about child injury risks and prevention, providing safety tips and resources to parents and caregivers, providing safety devices to families in need and advocating for better child safety laws on the national and local levels.

How sweet, no?

How large is this problem?

From 1998 to 2009, 445 children died from heat stroke because they were unattended in vehicles that became too hot. More than 50 percent of them were “forgotten” by a caring adult who became distracted as they left the vehicle. Another 30 percent became victims of heat stroke when they were left unattended by an adult and then gained entry into, and became trapped inside, an unlocked vehicle.

So, about 40 children a year.

And roughly how many children perished in automobile collisions in that same time frame?  In 2008, a relatively low-death year thanks to high gas prices and the Great Recession, there were 6,130 car-crash killings of people aged newborn through 20.

So, for every one child who suffocated or cooked to death in a parked car, there were 153 who died while a car was being operated on the road.

What if we limit the comparison to babies and toddlers?  In 2008, 411 children aged newbie through 5 died in car crashes.

So, ten times more than suffocated or cooked.

Don’t get me wrong.  The fact that 40 children a year get cooked or asphyxiated in automobiles is no laughing matter.  I’m sure none suffered that fate while sitting on buses or trains.  And however many died while walking or biking, they were certainly overwhelmingly killed by somebody operating an automobile in their pathway.

These people — the corporate executives and alliances and politicians, the ones who push cars-first transportation on us — are knowing, for-profit, businesslike murderers.  And their primary beneficiaries — major corporate shareholders — are avid sponsors of this killing, whether they think about it or not.

And, if they aren’t an intentional front in the effort to divert attention from real problems, shame on Safe Kids USA for its pimping of the cars-pushers’ Orwellian efforts.

[Note: According to its latest Annual Report, Safe Kids is heavily subsidized by the NHTSA. This supports my thesis that the core mission of this Ralph Nader-engendered agency is to soft pedal, rather than regulate and reduce, the death and destruction generated by the automotive-industrial sector of the capitalist economy.]

Barackie and Georgie, Sitting in a Tree…

As always, Obama is a very major obstacle here, not any kind of change-bringer.

bushobama In his 2006 State of the Union speech, George W. Bush “admitted” that “America is addicted to oil.”

Today, Barack H. Obama, speaking in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, concurred with the now-official diagnosis of what ails the nation:  “We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy.”

This, of course, is utter poppycock, at both ends.

The object of addiction is cars, not oil.  Automotive engines burn 71 percent of the petroleum used in the United States. And certainly at least another 10 percent of the country’s oil-use goes into manufacturing cars and car parts and facilitating related services, plus the making of asphalt for automotive roads.

So, remove the cars, and 80 percent of the oil demand disappears.

And — of course —  Bush and Obama also mis-identify the addicts.  Not only do the rich buy far more cars and use far more oil, but they are the primary beneficiaries of the corporate economy, which is intractably addicted to selling millions of new automobiles each and every year in the USA and elsewhere.

I’m tempted to say this strategic misdiagnosis is knowing.  Yet Bush is a famous moron and Obama seems to have spent his entire adult life figuring out how to fuse himself with corporate interests and capitalist dogmas, so perhaps not.

Either way, though:  Being told oil, rather than cars, is “our” problem is like having your internist tell you you have a bad cough, when you actually have lung cancer.  The longer we deny the facts, the lower our odds of decent survival.

As always, Obama is a very major obstacle here, not any kind of change-bringer.  Indeed, it’s noteworthy that Obama’s purported diagnosis of the problem is actually weaker and more dishonest than Bush’s.  Bush “admitted” that oil, all oil, was the issue.  Obama says it’s merely “foreign oil.”

Ivan Illich on Bikes v. Cars

Take a look at what Illich had to say about the sanity of cars-first transportation, and you see why the CIA spied on him and tried to have him ex-communicated by Rome.

cyclist Ivan Illich was certainly one of history’s greatest Catholic priests, right up there with Bartolome de las Casas, Oscar Romero, and Gustavo Gutiérrez.  Take a look at what Illich had to say about the sanity of cars-first transportation, and you see why the CIA spied on him and tried to have him ex-communicated by Rome: [Footnote: Illich was still using sexist pronouns in 1978]

The model American devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it.

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.

The obvious alternative?

[A]bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well. The bicycle lifted man’s auto-mobility into a new order, beyond which progress is theoretically not possible.

Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems.

Who’d Have Guessed?

And what do the photos the peasants took anyway demonstrate? That the scale of the spill is now somewhere between 5 and 16 times larger than the government and BP admit.

Apparently, actual study reveals that “the leak from the broken undersea well [is] substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.”

captain renaultCaptain Renault, he of the automotive surname, is once again shocked, shocked to discover that while the government of the market-worshipping Barack Obama has been basing its estimates solely on the pathetic gesture of looking at satellite photos, British Petroleum, finalist for the now-postponed 2010 Safety Award for Excellence from the U.S. Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service, has been actively blocking scientists’ efforts to look under the water and see what’s there:

BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”

“The answer is no to that,” said Daddy to the toddlers, the Emperor to the miscreant peasants who wanted to photograph His Holiness’s Exalted Suit of Clothes.

And what do the photos the peasants took anyway demonstrate?  That the scale of the spill is now somewhere between 5 and 16 NINETEEN times larger than the government and BP admit:

Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The latter figure would be 3.4 million gallons a day. But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, has calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.

“There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes.

Par, absolute par for the course.

More From the Orwell Department

US annual expenditures on automobiles, gas, repair, parking, insurance, and roads: >$1 trillion

From Automotive News:

Chevy aimed to stick with its Americana theme through playing off the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance: “With liberty and justice for all,” one of the sources said.

US car crash deaths, 2009: 33,963

US annual expenditures on automobiles, gas, repair, parking, insurance, and roads: >$1 trillion (my calculations from government and insurance industry data, see Courting Carmageddon, my forthcoming book)

Total outstanding U.S. automotive loan debt: $1 trillion (sources: here minus here)

“I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”  Charles E. Wilson, GM President

Orwell Was an Amateur

BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators

henhouse The things that happen in market totalitarian America simply couldn’t be imagined by the greatest of dystopian fiction writers.

To wit:

The Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service has postponed a Monday safety awards luncheon at which a nominee for two awards was BP — which operated the oil rig that sank in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening an unprecedented environmental disaster along much of the nation’s Gulf Coast.

The awards ceremony recognizes “outstanding safety and pollution prevention performance by the offshore oil and gas industry.” BP was nominated for its work on the outer continental shelf.

The big winner of last year’s SAFE award was Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last month under BP’s management. BP was also a finalist at the 2009 conference.

And this:

BP’s Awards Page

And, of course, this:

BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent a deepwater well from this type of accident.

One area of immediate concern, industry experts said, was the lack of a remote system that would have allowed workers to clamp shut Deepwater Horizon’s wellhead so it would not continue to gush oil. The rig is now spilling 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

In a letter sent last year to the Department of the Interior, BP objected to what it called “extensive, prescriptive regulations” proposed in new rules to toughen safety standards. “We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs…continue to be very successful.”

oil bird

This Guy is Smart?

As it is, though, Obama and the Democratic Party are huge obstacles to sanity and survival and the major social and technological changes on which they depend.

By now, it’s been abundantly revealed why our current president admires Ronald Reagan: affection for fairy tales.

To wit, this amazing piece of Reaganesque wishfulness in President Obama’s 2010 Earth Day speech:

obama fairy tale

Think about it: roughly a century and a half ago, in the late 1850s, the Seneca Oil Company hired an unemployed train conductor named Edwin Drake to investigate the oil springs of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Around this time, oil was literally bubbling up from the ground — but nobody knew what to do with it. It had limited economic value and often all it did was ruin crops or pollute drinking water.

Now, people were starting to refine oil for use as a fuel. Collecting oil remained time consuming, though, and it was back-breaking, and it was costly; it wasn’t efficient, as workers harvested what they could find in the shallow ground — they’d literally scoop it up. But Edwin Drake had a plan. He purchased a steam engine, and he built a derrick, and he began to drill.

And months passed. And progress was slow. The team managed to drill into the bedrock just a few feet each day. And crowds gathered and they mocked Mr. Drake. They thought him and the other diggers were foolish. The well that they were digging even earned the nickname, “Drake’s Folly.” But Drake wouldn’t give up. And he had an advantage: total desperation. It had to work. And then one day, it finally did.

One morning, the team returned to the creek to see crude oil rising up from beneath the surface. And soon, Drake’s well was producing what was then an astonishing amount of oil — perhaps 10, 20 barrels every day. And then speculators followed and they built similar rigs as far as the eye could see. In the next decade, the area would produce tens of millions of barrels of oil. And as the industry grew, so did the ingenuity of those who sought to profit from it, as competitors developed new techniques to drill and transport oil to drive down costs and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Now, our history is filled with such stories — stories of daring talent, of dedication to an idea even when the odds are great, of the unshakeable belief that in America, all things are possible.

The childishness and/or dishonesty in this story is, as the kids say, epic.

Petroleum is petroleum. As James Howard Kunstler explains this elementary point:

Oil is an amazing substance. It stores a tremendous amount of energy per weight and volume. It is easy to transport. It stores easily at regular temperature in unpressurized metal tanks, and it can sit there indefinitely without degrading. You can pump it through a pipe, you can send it all over the world in ships, you can haul it around in trains, cars, and trucks. You can even fly it in tanker planes and refuel other airplanes in flight. It is flammable but has proven to be safe to handle with a modest amount of care….It can be refined by straightforward distillation into many grades of fuel…and innumerable useful products….It has been cheap and plentiful.

Petroleum exists in the Earth’s crust in finite amounts. Thanks largely to overclass-imposed cars-first transportation policies, half of the planet’s supply is now, a mere 150 years after Titusville, gone, having been churned and burned into energy, heat, plastics, chemicals, and various forms of pollution.

But, instead of telling the truth about our energy situation and attacking the root of the problem, the supposedly smart change-agent-in-chief would have us believe that desperation (a mighty interesting analogy/admission, no?) and American-ness are somehow going to work their magic and not just rescue the present order, but bring it a new dawn.

If this weren’t a grave threat to my child and yours, I’d laugh and say “Good luck with that.” As it is, though, Obama and the Democratic Party are huge obstacles to sanity and survival and the major social and technological changes on which they depend.