Stunning video makes clear prevention is the only cure: What dispersants have really done to Gulf

BP’s name being dragged ‘literally through the muck.’

Back on May 6, I discussed how dispersants do not solve the Gulf Coast’s oil problem (see “Out of Sight: BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil“).  They do decrease the amount of oil that directly reaches the shores or the creatures that live on the shores or sea surface. But they increase the exposure to oil by creatures that live in the water or on the sea floor “” like, say, shrimp or oysters.

Now, finally, we have some must-see video of the hidden underwater “nightmare” BP has created, from Good Morning America, which had the help of “Philippe Cousteau and a team of specially-trained divers”:

Remember, BP’s CEO Tony Hayward said last week, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”  And he calls the oil disaster’s ultimate impact “very, very modest”

In fact, though the Obama administration and local Gulf officials have acted quickly, history has taught that no amount of clean up effort will ever be able to fully reverse the spill of many millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.  The legacy of Exxon Valdez still lingers today; Dr. Jeffrey Short of Oceana testified in a 2009 hearing that:

Despite heroic efforts involving more than 11,000 people, 2 billion dollars, and aggressive application of the most advanced technology available, only about 8 percent of the oil was ever recovered. This recovery rate is fairly typical rate for a large oil spill. About 20 percent evaporated, 50 percent contaminated beaches, and the rest floated out to the North Pacific Ocean where it formed tarballs that eventually stranded elsewhere or sank to the seafloor.

This is yet more evidence that 20-year Coast Guard veteran Dr. Robert Brulle is right:  “With a spill of this magnitude and complexity, there is no such thing as an effective response.”

Think Progress notes:

While BP’s handsome profits will almost assuredly allow the company to survive the disaster, the impact on the Gulf caused by the release of 60 million gallons of oil is another matter. The ecological catastrophe will drag “BP’s reputation literally through the muck,” observes The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson. Some images from the Gulf region:

BP in the sand
A pool of oil on a beach at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Monday (Getty)
Damn BP! God Bless America!
A sign south of Belle Chasse, LA, on Thursday (AP)
Greenpeace takes over BP
Greenpeace protesters take over BP headquarters in London on Thursday (AP)
Beyond Petroleum?
Marine scientist Paul Horsman at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Monday (Greenpeace)

Dispersants decrease the amount of oil that directly reaches the shores or the creatures that live on the shores or sea surface. But they increase the exposure to oil by creatures that live in the water or on the sea floor “” like, say, shrimp or oysters.

46 Responses to Stunning video makes clear prevention is the only cure: What dispersants have really done to Gulf

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    Television is usually pretty low in terms of effective bandwidth for transmitting facts but this is an example of where there’s no substitute for visual impact.

  2. Tim Mauseth says:

    Yesterday (May 24, 2010) the New York Times reported on an secret directive issued last September by General David Petreaus expanding “secret actions in the Mideast” by US Special Operations troops and private contractors. Let us leave aside the multiple questions this story raises about lines of authority, the use of contractors, the wisdom of the “secret actions” themselves, and instead grant good will and good intentions. The military is engaged openly and directly in at least two wars in the area, and not so indirectly involved in a few more in the broader region. Perhaps it is military prudence to use every tool at one’s disposal and to anticipate every possible contingency in order to prepare plans and alter outcomes.

    Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, after making some noises to the contrary, the government reiterates that not only is the catastrophe in the Gulf BP’s “responsibility” but also that BP possesses technical resources unavailable to the government, and should still be in the driver’s seat on the efforts to stop the flow and clean up the oil. It makes one think. Where is that finely honed ability to imagine the worst and plan for it claimed by the military as the reason for this expenditure or that operation? Is this sort of ability absent in the rest of the government? For that matter, is it even credible that the US Navy itself has never considered shutting down or destroying an undersea oil rig?

    On May 17th on CBS News BP COO Suttles directly denied that the company had any intention to save the oil well for future production, and that all they wanted was to stop it. Once again let us assume good faith and honesty, and that BP wants this thing over more than anyone. What we would be left with is still alarming and unacceptable; either both the oil industry and the government have failed utterly to prepare for this sort of event, or their preparation consisted of deciding the odds were in favor of it not happening, it couldn’t really be fixed if it did, and too much money would be lost if the issue were really confronted. So it is a miserable and shameful performance at best, leaving aside the display of greed, bribery, violence (in the present case to the oil workers, to sea life) and selfishness that have been petroleum’s boon companions for well over a century.

  3. Karen S. says:

    The same non-fixes for the same problems will result in the same non-fixes for the same problems again, sort of like Ground Hog Day meets The Blob. We need new tools to work with. For starters, I think we should codify into law that our environment is a shared commons, and that to harm it, especially on a scale like this, should be a federal crime called Ecocide. Today I sent this letter to my congressional delegation.

    Dear Senator Cantwell, Senator Murray and Congressman Dicks,
    The tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is larger than one ocean, one regional population, one culture, or one huge, richly abundant wildlife habitat. It is not just a tragedy of hemispheric proportion, but the symbol of what has gone so badly wrong in this country. The level of discouragement and sense of futility among ordinary citizens is unprecedented in my lifetime, and I’m usually an optimist. Not now, though.

    There are two definitions for Ecocide:
    1. Destruction or damage of the environment; especially intentionally; for example, by herbicides in war.
    2. Heedless or deliberate destruction of the natural environment, as by pollutants or an act of war.

    Corporations were recently granted by the US Supreme Court the legal right to spend unlimited money on election campaign ads under the guise that corporations are “citizens.” If they are now “citizens,” then their responsibilities as such are the same as yours and mine. If you and I did what Citizen BP has done, would we get away with it? The EPA issued a warning to BP to use a less toxic dispersant. BP’s reply was no. Such irresponsible behavior is a slap in every American’s face. We cannot let it stand.

    Would it not be reasonable for Congress to consider reckless, careless and contemptuous behavior such as that being exhibited by BP (with the example and consequences set by Exxon in 1989) to be an act of war against the environment? Please draft or support a bill to make Ecocide a federal crime. When corporate “citizens” destroy irreplaceable resources on a scale like this, they must be held responsible and not allowed to make a farce of our court system as Exxon did and BP surely will. Thank you.
    Karen Sullivan

  4. mike roddy says:

    I agree, Karen, this is not a scandal, it’s an atrocity. The best way to prevent its recurrence is to punish those who were responsible, with both fines and prison time.

  5. catman306 says:

    The video shows how the Gulf has become a vast chemical factory. We need assist nature to complete the process of removing this oil by oxidation. Nature is too slow. When the oxygen at lower levels is consumed, the oxidation process halts and the oil remains in suspension or settles to the bottom smothering everything. People call this a dead zone.

    Aeration is used in chemistry, to oxidise a compound dissolved or suspended in water. Aeration is also used to increase oxygen content of wort (unfermented beer) or must (unfermented wine) to allow yeast to propagate and begin fermentation. In a similar way we will need to aerate the oil plumes to allow oil eating bacteria to do their job.

    Only thinking ‘outside the box’ will remedy this Gulf Oil Catastrophe. Please consider carefully the wisdom of aerating the subsurface oil/dispersant plumes which may prevent dead zones from expanding. Boats with compressors aboard are standing-by, unused, and crews to man them are waiting at the dock, unemployed. BP has the funds to bring this together. Tomorrow morning.

  6. Leif says:

    Karen, #3: Being we are neighbors you know I stand with you. Well said.

  7. Chris Dudley says:


    It may be very hard to get air down to 4000 feet without staged air compressors. First, the maximum pressure for a typical air hose is about 300 psi for the kind you’d see in a mechanic’s garage. But you need to balance 1800 psi for a 4000 foot depth plume. So, you’d have to place a compressor every 400 feet or so to assure that the top of the hose does not blow out. For fire hose you could go a bit longer between stages. But, it does not seem to me that using a single air compressor mounted on a boat will work well without special hose or pipe and it would have to be a better air compressor that you usually find on a working boat.

    On the other hand, sending oxygen down in solid form is just a matter of dumping it off the side of a boat. Sodium percarbonate is environmentally benign and can deliver oxygen at depth. A sack or pallet of sacks of this chemical set to rupture when the correct depth is reached (say by lighting a flare tied to a sack when the stuff is dropped in) could be handled by small boats pretty easily. There are other solid oxidizers and ammonium nitrate is in good supply but using a third or so of the annual US consumption might be disruptive to agriculture, not to mention the problems with nitrogen load that might arise. Taking most of the OxyClean off the the world market (where sodium percarbonate is largely used) would be less disruptive perhaps and certainly less of an environmental hazard.

    I agree that clean up of this spill could well require delivering oxygen at depth.

  8. nathan says:

    @ Karen and Time, this event seems so be the mantelpiece of our governments failures.

    Industrial capitalism has provided success, and technological advancement that has ushered us into a new era. That machine we call our economy is growing so powerful now that the peoples rights are being trampled. The balance of power must shift back to the people or our success as a species will be undone by massive entities like BP.

  9. Leif says:

    Carrying on with the revolutionary theme.

    I feel that the problem of capitalism and by extension corporations is all encompassing and will not be solved until both are charged with humanities long term survivability and the sustainability of the earth’s life support systems first and foremost and profits secondary. The very fact that both capitalism and corporations are in this heated battle that is at odds with humanities very existence is testimony to the failure of the status quo.
    Whether it is thru enlightenment, law, military coup, Presidential decree, revolution, or what ever, unless humanity can get this capitalist/corporate entity to embrace humanities sustainability with shared enthusiasm, and soon, I fear all is lost.
    Contrary to popular belief, it is not written in stone that profits come first. That is degreed by the rich to perpetuate their status. I say F#*@’ em. History has shown time and again that is the attitude of the rich and powerful to all of us. Well what is good for the goose and all that…
    HUMANITY FIRST! Status Quo, NO!

  10. paulm says:

    Could this be a right wing plot to bring down Obama?

  11. sailrick says:

    Taking the money out of the election process would be a big step toward thwarting corporate impact on public policy. Breaking up the corporate media monopolies would be another.

  12. Karen S. says:

    And each of us writing letters to editors, and individual (not form) letters or calls to congressional representatives and whoever else will listen would be a start at letting the country’s leadership know that public opinion is getting mighty stirred up. We’ve got to tell them what we want them to do–it’s our job as citizens. Sure, tell them what we don’t like, but then say what we want, too. It is still our country if we make it so. Political inertia can only be moved by immense public will, the kind that outweighs the moneyed lobbyists by sheer numbers of people who want something better than the current failing system. Environmental justice needs real teeth. It can take years to get legislation passed, so start now.

    If showing political will means everybody shows up with signs on the steps of the US Capitol on July 4th, then let’s do it. Talk is good, but action is better.

  13. Chris Dudley says:

    I watched the film and to me the dispersant’s effects look good. The surface area of the oil is being multiplied tremendously which means that bacteria can get at the oil more easily and start to break it down. In principle, this means that the poisoning will last for a shorter duration. At depth, there is a need to provide oxygen to assist the bacteria since they will use up what is available.

    Consider a glob of oil one meter in radius. It has a surface area of 4pi m^2 and a volume of 4pi/3 m^3. Now add dispersant and the breaks up into droplets 1 mm in radius. The oil still has the same volume but it is spread into a billion droplets each with a surface area of one millionth of the original glob. Thus, the surface area of oil presented to water where bacteria live is one thousand times larger. The oil will get metabolized and broken down a thousand times faster.

    Yes, this will be hell for shrimp and other multi-cell life. But the chief hellishness of hell is its persistence. If conditions improve rapidly, then partial recovery may not be such a long shot.

  14. Magnus W says:

    The CEO for BP is from Sweden and is taking some severe heat here for his behaviour… or should I say hiding and then the first thing he does is this appearance not taking the question seriously enough…

    It has been said that he was recruited among other things for his environmental rhetoric, which makes the behaviour even more strange.

    Any news about this in the US?

  15. Magnus W says:

    Correction, that should be Chairman of the board Carl-Henric Svanberg

  16. Who is really, seriously, logically responsible?

    mike roddy wrote in the above comment that the solution consists in “punish[ing] those who were responsible, with both fines and prison time.”

    I personally agree. The commenters on this post and the rest of the site should be punished (Doug Bostrom, Tim Mauseth, Karen S, mike roddy, catman306, Leif, Chris Dudley, nathan, sailrick, Magnus W.), as they’re the ones using oil in their cars and who use this incredibly oil-hungry machine called “plane”.

    What? Ooooops, sorry, I’m wrong of course. The culprits are the ones who gave you the oil you use. How silly of me.

    The capacity of human beings to use a planet-destroying substance, and then blame the consequences of this use on the ones from whom they got this substance is staggering. There’s a word for it, coined by the great George Orwell: “doublethink”.

    Will there be ONE american, or for that matter French or English commenter who will admit this immoral charade has to stop?

    France has 500 cars per 1000 inhabitants while China has… 30 cars per 1000 inhabitants. If you don’t understand that cars are machines that inherently destroy the Earth, you’ve understood nothing about climate policy. The only other way out is to have resort to racism and tell the Chinese they’re not allowed to use cars and planes as much as we in rich, mainly white, countries do.

    Then again, the other Orwellian way out is to blame the ones who gave you the destroying substance, which arguably is so much cozier, in spite of its obvious logical emptiness.

  17. Raul says:

    yes, science shows that we wallow in our own. It seems, for new life we
    should view the oxygen depleting microorganisms. We still have the stories, though, of the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico when it wes just
    the child who had disturbed with a small wallow on the shore.

  18. Wit's End says:


    That’s not QUITE fair, nor necessarily productive. The fact is, BP was and is criminally negligent. They deliberately cut corners on safety, that seems pretty clear. Government has been embedded with corrupt enablers for years. The Obama administration should have routed them out on day one, but I’m sure it’s not that easy.

    I agree that Americans in particular squander fuel at prodigious, ridiculous rates. But all those individual choices to commute long distances or take airplane holidays can’t make up for energy policy coming from Washington DC. It isn’t the car itself or the plane to blame – we could have, and should have, switched to clean energy 40 years ago. That’s the problem.

    I blame Reagan, and all the people who voted for him.

  19. Mike #22 says:

    P-E Neurohr, this oil spill is indeed a wake up call for all the consumers of oil, and shows that the reckless extraction of this toxic material is (yet another) ethical dilemna facing civilization. However, I suggest that it is a false dichotomy to say that we either have poisonous planet destroying vehicles or no vehicles at all. If it truly were an either/or situation, then we would be faced with trying to convince a billion people that their cars are unethical. This would be challenging.

    The world is filled with abundant clean energy. Cradle to cradle manufacturing, powered by clean energy, could easily produce near zero impact vehicles. Further, while it is clear that the growing global economy has taken us far past the carrying capacity of the earth, I do not think it is correct to say we either have economic growth with environmental harm (BP oil spill) or a no growth scenario and less harm. Economies based on clean energy and closed material cycles could be easily achieved–the challenge now is to make the most of the limited time and resource window which we have now (a few decades at best) to put the new economies in place of the old, stop our environmental stomping, and give the planet time to heal.

  20. Chris Dudley says:

    Pierre (#16),

    I don’t think you can make consumers responsible when it comes to an oil spill that may well have involved illegal actions. If it turns out that bribery was involved in getting this lease or the Thunder Horse lease and permits were issued because of the bribery that could not have been issued legally, then the responsibility is pretty much shared between the corrupting company and the corrupted administration.

    We can get oil without deep water drilling and hard to control oil spills and we have laws in place to prevent this situation. If the oil was obtained illegally, the consumer did not ask that the supply be contaminate with the illegitimate product.

    On the question of use of fossil fuels generally and its effect on climate which you are confusing with the oil spill issue, the US and China have agreed in principle to limits on emissions and the US has begun to regulate emissions. It is a bit late but progress is being made. The international direction seems to be that cutting fossil fuel use rather that eliminating it will be adequate. I suspect that cleanup will be needed but with adequate emissions cuts, we may need to clean up only an amount of carbon dioxide less than that which was emitted prior to our understanding that the climate situation is urgent. Given this, it is possible, in good conscience, to take a less strident tone than you have adopted.

  21. catman306 says:

    Chris Dudley, thank you for your thoughtful response to the possibility of aeration of the oil plumes to speed up oxidation of the oil and to provide O2 to oil eating bacteria.

    I had considered the pressures involved and know that 300 to 400 feet is probably the deepest that surface boats and compressors could aerate. I suspect it would do a great deal of good breaking down the surface oil plumes shown in the video. So this cheap and simple method can be at least tried.

    Thanks, too, for the information about solid oxygen-releasing chemicals that could be dumped on the bottom. If aeration works near the surface, it probably will help at depths, down to the sea floor.

    Let’s hope and pray that BP’s top kill method works and the gusher stops (or is greatly reduced) today.

    Let’s hope some environmental engineers read this blog and get to testing aeration as a method to aid in cleaning up BP’s mess. Today.

    Witsend, I also blame RR, who was unfortunately only one of our short-sighted fools. There are so many others.

  22. @ Wit’s End, Mike & Chris Dudley:

    Thanks for your responses. Here are a few thoughts.

    – my comment was not “necessarily productive”, even “strident”: yes, and the suffragettes, when they were asking for voting rights for women, were quite bothersome and loud, when serious people should always stay calm and detached; and the civil rights activists fighting racism even used from time to time 4-letter words, quite a “strident” bunch;

    – “clean energy”, “near zero impact vehicles”: read again, China has 30 cars/1000 inhabitants, while the US has more than 700 cars/1000 inhabitants, there’s no such thing as “clean energy” with that kind of potential increase of oil-hungry machines, especially once you include in your assessment the infrastructure it implies; get real;

    – BP was “criminally negligent”: so you didn’t know oil companies are capable of this? You were using your car and the uber-oil-hungry machine called plane while thinking that BP & Co are “saintly caring”?

    – “I suggest that it is a false dichotomy to say that we either have poisonous planet destroying vehicles or no vehicles at all. If it truly were an either/or situation, then we would be faced with trying to convince a billion people that their cars are unethical. This would be challenging.”: since when the fact that something is challenging makes it illogical? After Pearl Harbour, it was, to say the least, challenging to go to war, so it was wrong for the US to do so?

    – “We can get oil without deep water drilling and hard to control oil spills”: … and have enough energy for the Chinese to get from 30 to more than 700 cars/1000 inhabitants?

    It seems this planet has two major types when it comes to climate destruction:
    – the neo-con type who doesn’t believe it’s real… and uses oil with a good conscience ;
    -the liberal, environmentally-minded type who knows it’s real, cares deeply about Mother Nature… and uses oil with a good conscience.

    The end-result, if we are lucid and pragmatic, is the same.

    [JR: No, there is a very big difference. This is not a problem that can be solved at an individual level. Progressives strongly support a national and global effort, whereas the neo-con types block every effort and spread disinformation.]

  23. mike roddy says:


    That’s exactly what the drug dealers say- “We’re only supplying a product to meet customer demand”.

    The difference is that drug dealers have a stronger moral argument. Unlike the oil companies, they do not engage in bribery of public officials, squelching of competition, and refusal to take responsibility for their actions.

    As many of us here have pointed out, the technology is here already to get off fossil fuels, for both power generation and transportation. the oil companies’ creepy stranglehold on our entire economy has so far prevented this from happening. Even now, they get far more subsidies from the government than clean solutions, such as wind and solar (which could also power cars through rechargable batteries).

    But you probably already know all this. You are just offended that some of us don’t like the oil companies. Maybe you should try a blog like Climate Depot or Wattsupwiththat. Over here, we’re interested in identifying the problems and coming up with solutions, not personal guilt and getting companies like BP and Exxon off the hook.

  24. Mike #22 says:

    Chris, your suggestion for aerating impacted water should be investigated as a possible remediation process. If the oil is chemically consuming oxygen (chemical oxygen demand), then supplying make up oxygen would correct low oxygen conditions and possibly prevent dead zones. If there is biological acivity that is eating the oil, then oxygen is a limitng factor down there. Add nutrients and bacteria?

    Scuba diving tank filling compressors produce pressures in excess of 4000 psi.

  25. Chris Dudley says:

    Pierre (#23),

    I guess I should say again that the US is starting to regulate greenhouse gas emissions owing to a Supreme Court decision that the EPA must consider greenhouse gases as potential pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA subsequently found the greenhouse gases to be harmful and has already instituted rules for new sources and will shortly regulate new classes of vehicles through CAFE standards under authority related to greenhouse gas emissions.

    I would say that based on your reply, you appear to be unaware that transportation can be accomplished without using fossil fuels. If your goal for Chinese transportation is to be realized, deep water drilling is of no consequence at all to achieving it and alternatives to conventional oil must be used such as electric transportation which China is pursuing. This is a practical matter of oil availability. Those who have the oil (not us) won’t and probably can’t produce it that quickly.

  26. jcwinnie says:

    Hayward was the Big Boss
    Was a good friend of mine
    Never understood a single word he said
    But I helped him drink his wine

    And, he always had some mighty fine wine

    (You know what’s coming next, sing it brothers and sisters)

    Oil to the World, Oil to the World
    Oil to the fishes in the dispersant laden sea
    Oil for you and me.

    With apologies to Hoyt Axton

  27. Meanwhile BP has more trouble on the Alaskan pipeline:

    ‘Another oil industry mishap occured yesterday as well, once again on American soil, and once again BP was the corporation in control of the malfunctioning equipment.

    Reuters reported that a power outtage on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline triggered the opening of relief valves, causing an unspecified volume of crude oil to overflow a storage tank into a secondary containment.’

    And this next one flags of convenience issues again at a guess:

    ‘Tuesday BBC News reported that emergency teams were called to the scene after two ships – a oil tanker and a bulk carrier – collided in waters off Singapore. The most recent reports state that as a result of the collision, the oil tanker sustained a 10 meter gash in its hull, releasing an estimated 14,600 barrels of light crude oil into the ocean.’

  28. @ Joe:

    “This is not a problem that can be solved at an individual level. Progressives strongly support a national and global effort (…)”.

    Any serious “global effort” will translate in changes at the “individual level”. So what would a global effort look like that takes into account the fact that if Americans have the right to have 700 cars/1000 inhabitants, then 1,3 billion Chinese have the right to increase their energy-use from 30 to 700 cars/1000 inhabitants? Add to that basically the same question about a billion Indians pursuing the same kind of energy-use increase?

    [JR: This is non-responsive to the pushback. Try again.]

    @ mike roddy:

    – “You are just offended that some of us don’t like the oil companies.”

    I wrote about the assertion that BP was “criminally negligent”: “So you didn’t know oil companies are capable of this?” QED.

    – “Maybe you should try a blog like Climate Depot or Wattsupwiththat.”

    I am asking valid questions, please don’t offend gratuitously someone criticizing your point of view. Try rather to answer my arguments with numbers instead of incantations to “clean energy”. How do you let the Chinese go from 30 to 700 cars/1000 inhabitants without destroying the climate of the planet?

  29. Chris Dudley says:


    Surface aeration is an interesting question. If oil is dispersed at the surface and has neutral buoyancy thereafter then it will mix in a mixing layer that should have plentiful oxygen from the atmosphere. But, hypoxia in the Gulf can occur at a depth of 40 feet when material sinks to the bottom and is metabolized there. So oil that ends up at that depth might benefit from aeration. Aeration should also induce some surface mixing itself so it might be even more effective than just oxygen delivered.

  30. Leif says:

    “How do you let the Chinese go from 30 to 700 cars/1000.” #28:

    That will not happen at least in the context that you are using. China is attempting to raise the standard of living of it’s people and justifiable so but they are coming up against the reality of the limitations of natural systems as are we. Our current approach to the future is unsustainable as realty is showing to those who care to look. China as well. The future will be different. Do you want to address it with rational thinking or disaster response?

  31. @ Joe

    “JR: This is non-responsive to the pushback. Try again.”

    I don’t quite understand why my answer to you is non-responsive. Let me nevertheless frame it differently. My admiration for the wealth of knowledge you make available on your blog doesn’t stop me from using my basic understanding of logic.

    1. We are in a terrible situation as far as the climate of the earth goes because of GHG pollution.

    2. Some machines -especially cars and planes-, used by a minority of earth’s inhabitants, are a disproportionate source of GHG. This is all the more true because to be serious, you must take into account all the pollution generated by their making and the building of the infrastructure they demand (steel, plastics, cement, etc.).

    3. If the majority of the earth’s inhabitants have the same rights as the minority, then the said machines will be multiplied in huge numbers in the coming years. This new demand in energy by 1,3 billion Chinese, for example, wanting to live like US citizens, either can only be met with coal, oil and gas, or “at best” it will eat up any amount of “renewable energy” that should have replaced today’s GHG-spewing system.

    This qualitative assessment is pretty straightforward, which could be a problem in itself, as so many folks seem to prefer subtlety of argument to soundness of argument.

    Anyway, it makes me conclude that, whatever societal ideas and habits would have us think, physics tell us the very use of cars (and planes) on this planet cannot be logically reconciled with our common goal of stopping the destruction of the climate.

    [JR: It was it nonresponsive because you were somehow saying there was no actual distinction between science-based environmentalists and anti-science neo-cons based on the fact that both use oil. My point is that voluntary action today by individuals is not the solution. Now you may throw up your hands and say the world will never agree to a solution, but that isn’t the same as saying there is no distinction between those who are pushing hard to inform the public and address the problem and those who are spreading disinformation and trying to block any effort to address it.]

  32. robhon says:

    To add to what Leif said on the China/car ratios… China is a very interesting culture and very different than ours. Culturally Americans have this concept of a home with a yard, barbeque in the back, etc. That necessitates suburbanization, hence individual transportation. The Chinese are very urban in their mindset. Culturally they like to live close together. Therefore, they are far better candidates for successful rapid transit.

    If you’ve spent any time at all in China you realize that most Chinese cities are dense urban areas. They have lots of NYC’s there. Personal vehicles, while definitely increasing, are a luxury item, not a necessity as they are in the US.

    I would also suggest that China is well aware of the natural limitations they’re running up against and are beginning to address them. They are getting way out ahead of the US on a large number of green technologies.

  33. Raul says:

    There is still hope that genetics will show the way for mankind to add
    another invention to the toolbox. You know, something that will raise
    us up from our wallows so the area could be cleaned again.
    Good luck for mankind.
    Keep your wits about you.

  34. Leif says:

    But if the temperature climbs above survival level, surprisingly close, genetics doesn’t get a chance to show it’s stuff. The temperature doesn’t have to stay high, just get there from time to time.

  35. Raul says:

    Tis true that the earth has undergone changes throughout history.
    Tis the present and the progression that we as people could base
    our choices in action.
    How easy it is for us and how comfortable it is for us also changes
    with time, It is the choices that makes the tradition. As still
    living, I try to make my choices progress in situation. You know,
    proceed toward progress in my situation. Sometimes there are set
    backs and it’s been way back that I learned I’m not so great.
    Glad that there are obviously people who are much smarter than me.
    Good luck with your choices.

  36. Karen S. says:

    Pierre-Emmanuel, you make a couple of valid points, but Joe’s comment is spot on: your J’accuse stance that lumps doers and doubters into one big, you-should-be-punished lot is misinformed at best, and an offensive tactic at worst. Lots of well-intentioned people trying to effect changes that are larger than an individual scale have been shouted down by doubters who say “You use oil, too, don’t you?” How does that invalidate the right to speak out?

    I am personally quite tired of being told to shut up because I use oil, regardless of my best efforts to minimize it through conservation and energy efficiency.

    There is no holier-than-thou ground here–we are all part of the problem. Not everyone is willing to be part of the solution, but by speaking out, people like Joe and the commenters in this blog are trying to effect change on a larger scale. If you haven’t gotten that message by reading this blog and all the comments from passionately committed people who advocate that changing our habits is no longer optional for survival on this beleaguered planet, then you have sorely missed the point. I will continue to write and to speak out, and I will not be silenced by the false logic that my use of oil supposedly invalidates my right to say we all need to change.

  37. @ Karen:

    In human affairs, there are basic rules that are, at least theoretically, agreed to by every sane person. Take the notion of “hypocrisy”. For example, take a torturer whose favorite instrument is the hammer, and once arrested, says for his defense: “I’m innocent, but the company selling hammers should be punished, not me”. You’d laugh.

    Now, take a civilization of people who use an extremely harmful product, even when they’re not forced to, and blame the guy they got if from when the harm becomes really obvious. I am sorry, my sense of logic tells me I cannot follow you on this path, it’s way too easy.

    And it’s not only a moral, holier-than-thou game. If you accept this kind of posture doesn’t make sense, it becomes quite interesting. It forces you to think about other policy options as far as solutions are concerned. From what I understand that the science is telling us, the minority of humans on this planet who use cars, for example, must cease to use this climate-destroying machine. I guess you’ll answer this is a lunatic position. So I have one simple question, which obviously leads to fascinating climate consequences. Let’s suppose you reject my position on the physical need for a ban on cars, please answer the following:

    QUESTION: “Do you think all human beings have the same right to use cars?”

  38. Raul says:

    That the innocent become guilty is inherent in nature. For if one organism becomes tainted, as it were, and becomes food for a higher
    organism then the lower organism becomes guilty.
    Speaking of the assumption of situation, has Tampa Florida figured
    out haw the newforces of the Gulf figure into the ocean water water
    purification system that serves so many life forms of the Tampa
    Bay area?
    Seems pertinant to mention as public safety is a concern in climate

  39. Raul says:

    Oh, and if the aditional elements do pass the design barriers of the
    water system and get to the aquafers via irregation etc. Should
    Tampa start design plans to areate the aquafers so that nature could
    help more efficiently with the situation. Then there is the spring water plants that distribute the beautiful spring water. Oh,there are so many
    new ways that “guilt” may pass from one to another.

  40. Leif says:

    “Do you think all human beings have the same right to use cars?” #38

    Surprise! I would say that the answer is yes BUT I would add, only if your use reflects the real costs to society and earth’s life support systems. Not when a large segment of humanity pays a penalty perhaps even with their life, for the remainder to do so.

  41. Aaron Lewis says:

    Re 12:It is not just the “oil”, it is the toxics that leach from the oil. A one – liter “blob” of fresh oil may leach toxics that contaminate the surrounding 1,000 liters of ocean water with toxics that kill the plankton, larva, eggs, and all other little critters in that volume of ocean.

    Break that liter of oil up into a thousand “1-milliliter mini-blobs” and disperse those “mini-blobs” of oil and you have the potential to contaminate a million liters of ocean with toxics from the oil that kill the bacteria, plankton, larva, eggs, and other little (and big) critters in that volume. If the dispersant works really well and forms micro liter mini-blobs, then the dispersant has allowed the contamination of a really huge volume of ocean water with toxic material at concentrations that kill most critters. And, here I mean “huge” in the context of the large volumes of water flowing in the Loop Current.

    Basically, dispersants just spread the toxicity over a much larger volume.

  42. Raul says:

    Since many derive their sense of right and wrong from the Bible,
    should a new Bible be devised that is more inclusive of the way
    Americans live so that those of us who don’t grasp things easily
    could understand more completely? Maybe in a generation or two
    new traditions will become recognized religion.

  43. Haywardito says:

    @Pierre (posts #38 & #32)

    While I agree with you that residents of China, India and other developing economies have the same rights to transportation as we in the USA, I think the flaw in your argument is that you seem to assume all cars will be made to use petroleum derived products, and made without end of life recycling in mind. As Chris Dudley in post #25 and Mike#22 in post #20 both point out, our technology has arrived at a point where we are available to produce electric vehicles and electric vehicle manufacturing plants with close to zero impact by the clever use of materials and renewable energy sources.

    In short, I do believe that all the human inhabitants of the Earth have the same right to a car as I do. And I believe that there exists better ways of making cars, powering cars (electricity), and using cars (ride sharing, time leasing). Whether or not these ways are adopted on a wide scale is another matter which I cannot foresee, but for which I can advocate and I can hope.

    BTW Joe, love your blog both for the information and the level of civil discourse.

  44. Karen S. says:

    You and I are in violent agreement on this: “the minority of humans on this planet who use cars, for example, must cease to use this climate-destroying machine.” In fact, I mostly have. I walk or bike mostly everywhere, and drive about 1000 miles per year maximum, only when absolutely necessary and public transportation is not available. I almost never fly—it’s too expensive in too many ways.

    And you are right about this, too: if you don’t practice what you preach, then don’t preach. Well, okay. I bought a solar panel. I recycle everything. Turned my thermostat down to 55-60. Wear sweaters indoors when needed. If it’s on the conservation list, I’ll do it. But oil products are still everywhere, and you’d have to live like a Neanderthal to avoid them. That’s what needs to change on a large scale. Nothing will change unless a growing number of people in the oil-using car-driving minority help to afflict the comfortable. The comfortable aren’t listing to the majority outside our borders. We’re all trying to accomplish that, you included. I’ll bet a lot of us are as frustrated by our famous American resistance to doing the right thing about climate and energy as you are. Just don’t make the mistake of labeling us all hypocrites.

    This is why I found your torture example as an analogy for environmental activism to be as offensive as your first recommendation that we should be punished for speaking out. Everyone commenting here, including you, is a member of the “civilization of people who use harmful products.” The object of this argument is not to tie us all in knots with white guilt, it’s to get us—ALL of us–off our sorry butts and make the changes needed so that environmental and economic injustice is a thing of the past. I think most of us know what that means on an individual level.

    But that’s not enough, as Joe has told you repeatedly. And throwing rocks at people who are trying to raise awareness on larger scales is the real hypocrisy. So is the fact that solar panels are ridiculously expensive while oil is cheap to buy, and the fact that ethanol, with its huge carbon footprint, sucks up 75 percent of alternative energy subsidies in this country, leaving almost nothing for solar and wind or other green technology development. It’s upside down and I intend to help upset this unfair applecart. On that I would imagine we might agree. If you haven’t read Bill McKibben’s “Eaarth” yet, I recommend it.