No more BPs: we must turn our deserts into solar power
The Deepwater Horizon disaster should make us look to the sun, and start a revolution in how we meet our energy needs
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 July 2010
Why hasn't the Deepwater Horizon spill, one of the worst ecological disasters in US history, led to a storming of the Bastille of Big Oil? Why aren't the most urgent problems of our time – environmental crises and climate change – being confronted with the same energy, idealism and optimism as past tragedies of poverty, tyranny and war? The current state of the oil industry is reminiscent of the ancien regime on the eve of the revolution.
The Gulf of Mexico disaster has many faces. BP's incompetence is one. But there is also the failure of legislative oversight. What until recently was praised as an economic stimulus policy is now being criticised as "collusion with scoundrels". The BP boss, Tony Hayward, dons sackcloth and ashes and speaks of an "unprecedented series of mishaps". At a hearing in the US House of Representatives, a Democrat congressman confronted him with the list of BP accidents and revealed another truth: there are still hundreds, indeed thousands of oil platforms in this region alone, but also throughout the world, for which the other oil majors are responsible. To beat up on BP alone is shabby. Deepwater Horizon is the symbol of the demise of a global experiment: a model of progress and development based on exploiting fossil fuels.
No one can claim they didn't see it coming. For two centuries machines and engines have been driven by combustion and steam. Nonetheless, a generation has grown up knowing that the fossil fuel industry is burning up its own foundations. More than a century ago, Max Weber foresaw the end of oil-based capitalism when he spoke of a time when "the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is burnt up". Yet why should a world that every day receives many times its energy needs from the sun, a free and inexhaustible source of energy, look on impassively as clouds of oil spew into the deep sea? Right now, we need the celebrated innovative power of capital and the utopian enthusiasm of engineers. "Swords into ploughshares" was the motto of the peace movement. "Deserts into solar power" should be our slogan now. more