Watching the oil spill unfold has been like moving through glue - or like oil following the move of the tides - everything moving in some odd, slow motion, the actual contours and dimensions of disaster only just beginning to come clear.
If nothing else, Barack Obama somehow looks like a genius of timing in announcing his plans to expand drilling last month; after carefully constructing an offshore drilling compromise that pleased basically no one, but managed to look like "doing something" on energy policy, the Administration now gets to put all those plans on hold in the name of environmental safety, and returns the oil industry to "evil, bad polluter" status.
And all it took was the largest oil spill in US history.
Like the volcanic ash moment across Europe, the oil spill probably best reflects how feeble our best efforts can be in the face of nature. The "moving through glue" quality of the response of to the spreading oil slick headed for the Gulf Coast has everything to do with not having, really, anything more than "try to surround it with big plastic barriers" as much of a solution. There's an inevitability to all of it that both amazes and awes.
I've been kind of ambivalent about energy policy; I think a lot of the energy vs. environment argument on the left is more than a little naive and surely unrealistic in a world that seems determined to consumer resources at enormous, even alarming rates. You can't stop progress, and if that progress needs fuel for... well, fuel, then people will be to make a lot of compromises for the desired result; whether we feel bad for the trees and the water and the animals, or not.
"Deep Water Drilling" has always struck me as an accident waiting to happen. It's getting oil from very far away, reaching into places we can't otherwise necessarily reach, a hole in the ground with a really long pipe. Breaking, leaking, the explosion of volatile material in the pipe... that all seemed likely. Stopping it, never quite so clear.
But the question of not doing the drilling strikes me as answered: we will keep drilling, for a long time. All the pushing for "green energy" - faith that wind and solar can deliver prodigious results - won't change that. And the other alternatives - nuclear and coal, essentially - are accidents also waiting to happen. Two mine disasters in two weeks underlines the coal dilemma, and living near Indian Point always reminds me that brave talk about massive nuclear plant expansion will always meet hurdles about risks and safety, with safety tending to prevail.
Environmental policy is where the cynicism in my liberalism wins out - all the talk of green things and conservation and Honor the Earth make lovely bumper stickers, but aren't likely to win political arguments. If environmentalism was winning, I think the Green Party would havemore to show for it, just for starters. And in the end we have this compromise, which we pretend to be fine with: the drilling happens, mostly without us looking... and God forbid anything happens to go wrong. That seems pretty close to the definition of "wing and a prayer". And for it, we get oil, lots of it, spreading out in all directions on top of the Gulf of Mexico. Just the cost of doing business... when you don't really have a Plan B.