Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Really is the Worst That Could Happen as a Result of the Gulf Tragedy?

This morning I was having breakfast at a restaurant and I overheard two persons talking about the oil spill tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the persons stated that the worst thing that could come out of this is for the United States to stop the practice of off-shore oil drilling. He also said quite non-chalantly that "disasters happen all the time" and that we should therefore be undeterred in our quest to extract more oil presumably wherever oil reserves can be found. What made these comments so disturbing to me is that they were being made directly in front of a television set broadcasting incredibly disturbing images of the oil-saturated gulf waters. So, the question that I would like to pose is, "what really is the worst thing that could happen as a result of the Gulf tragedy?" My response to this question is twofold: one response is based on my Catholic, Christian, and Franciscan orientation to the world and the other is based on a rationale analysis of the event (I offer two responses since not everyone has the same faith orientation as I do).

The worst thing that could happen from a faith perspective is for me and people of a similar faith to not stop dead in our tracks and listen for the voice of God's Spirit speaking in the midst of a disaster of nearly unparalleled scale that will have disastrous ecological, social, and economic effects for years or even decades to come in the Gulf area. I suspect that God wishes to say something profoundly game-changing about this event. Further, something tells me that the Creator, who scripture states delights in his creation and from whom all creatures flow and return, is likely not pleased with our hubris in seeking to extract oil reserves from pristine habitats such as the Gulf or the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) and thereby threaten the environmental health and well-being of these places for years, decades or even generations to come. The burden of proof for people of faith is to explain how drilling operations that at times recklessly threaten the environment could possibly be pleasing or agreeable to the Creator who is glorified through the grandeur of creation. Putting aside the faith response, what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of this tragedy from a purely rational analysis? Given that the oil reserves in or around the US are estimated to supply only a relatively small amount at our current rate of consumption (some estimates are that we have as little as three years) there can be no question that given the catastrophic damage that will be incurred in the Gulf region alone (not to mention the very likely scenario of future disasters), I would say that reason and rationality dictate that, at a minimum, a moratorium should be imposed on current off-shore drilling operations and future plans until such time that fail safe mechanisms can be installed or developed to make absolutely certain that such a disaster never occurs again.

It's a simple analysis of costs v. benefits: the costs of the current disaster and the potential for future ones versus the very limited benefits we will derive demand that we stop dead in our tracks. Make no mistake, there are far worse things that could happen as a result of this disaster than merely stopping our quest for oil, especially if we don't ask some hard questions and learn from it. My prayers go out to those who lost their lives in this disaster (and those who survive them), those species currently fighting for life and dying, and the people of the Gulf who are suffering and will likely suffer for years to come. I also pray that people of faith and reason consider contacting their Congressional representatives and urging them to sponsor or co-sponsor a moratorium on current dangerous off-shore drilling operations and future ones until "fail safe" mechanisms can be developed and installed. Pat, TOR