Having spent countless nights on Caribbean shores studying sea turtles, I feel especially powerless at the magnitude of the oil spill and the uncertainty about how to prevent future such disasters.
Of course, we all know that we need to get off our oil dependence and develop alternative sources of energy. But there is nothing immediate that we can do to help.
We still need to drive to work; our utilities are greatly dependent on fossil fuel; the idea of a fast rail or even a good public transportation system is far into the future in most places, save for large cities.
However, I wonder if it is even possible to cut down in oil consumption without doing drastic changes to our lifestyle.
After Al Gore's video about climate change, there was a surge of awareness worldwide. I felt it was a bit of a blessing in disguise because this raised awareness could be used to stop other sources of the problem, not only CO2 emissions. The problem is not that we consume too much oil, the problem is that we consume too much, period.
We consume too much energy, to be sure, but also we consume too much of our natural resources and because of it we produce too much waste. Each one of these problems is just as bad as climate change but they receive less attention.
Consider something as seemingly harmless as our gadget revolution with cell phones, computers, i-this and i-that.
It has depleted copper ore reserves worldwide with only one left unexploited in an extremely pristine and fragile ecosystem in Chile. Of course, disposing of the old gadget leads to the release of its toxic chemicals where it will produce unknown amounts of damage on local people or even miles away.
I was hoping that the realization of the dangers of global change was going to be used to bring attention to the real problem and start a campaign to consume less, live more humbly, more modestly.
A true campaign against global warming would start out as a campaign to reduce consumerism. Instead, the leaders steered it in quite the other direction: Buy a new car, buy a more efficient appliance, buy better light bulbs — buy, buy, buy.
This was good for business, but only marginally good for the environment. There was not any thought to how much energy (and emissions) was used to make your new car. Clearly saving a few gallons of fuel a month will require some five or six years before it offsets the amount of emissions by the metallurgic needs of making a car.
So buying that hybrid car is only environmentally friendly years after the purchase, provided that you do not buy another one in many more years after you break even. Of course, this does not account for the toxic chemicals your old car releases at it rots in the junk yard.
There is not a single environmentalist out there who would not agree that consumerism is at the root of most of our environmental problems.
Yet there is no talk of cutting down in consumption of goods. The problem is that stopping consumerism is sticking a mortal dagger into the beating heart of capitalism, as we know it.
It is not possible to cut down consumerism without bringing the economy to its knees. Unfortunately, there is too much fear and misinformation about other systems and it prevents us from having an honest discussion of the matter.
Only fossil fuels can provide the energy for our current lifestyle and their extraction is always a dirty business. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is not the only one in recent history, it is just the one that happened in our backyard.
We can also be sure that it will not be the last one. As long as there is oil exploitation, there will be oil leaks. So as we are saddened about the oil spill, and the horrific images we receive from the Gulf, we must consider how much we like our comfortable and consumerist lifestyle and ask ourselves: Is it worth it?