A Philosopher's Blog

Spill, Baby, Spill!

Posted in Business, Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 30, 2010
A beach after an oil spill.
Image via Wikipedia

During the 2008 campaign the Republicans had the slogan of “drill, baby, drill!” After Obama won, he rather quietly decided to endorse that loud slogan by opening up areas to drilling. In an interesting coincidence, disaster struck an offshore oil rig shortly after this policy change.

In addition to the loss of the rig crew, the disaster also damaged the well. Because of this damage, oil has been pouring into the ocean creating a slick about the size of Rhode Island (as the media folks are fond of saying). While the Coast Guard is doing the best it can, oil containment of this type is difficult (if not impossible).

As the oil drifts about, it will no doubt do severe damage to the ocean ecosystem. Once it starts hitting the beaches it will also create additional damage.  For the folks who hug money rather than trees, this is of concern because the economic damage will potentially be catastrophic. This area is heavily fished and the states in the area (such as Florida) have a significant part of their economy based on tourism. Needless to say, people are generally not very eager to spend a vacation at a beach covered in oil.

This situation raises numerous concerns, of which I will address two. The first is, obviously enough, who is going to pay for the cleanup costs and the economic damage?

In regards to the cleanup, it could be argued that the taxpayers should pay the bill. After all, an analogy could be drawn to a house fire. If your house catches on fire, then the fire department takes care of it. At least in most places-some communities have considered billing for such services.

One weak point of this analogy is the matter of scale. After all, the cleanup will be rather expensive. Of course, this might not be relevant: the fire department deals with burning skyscrapers and not just tiny shacks. Perhaps a better attack on this analogy is the fact that the oil companies are making vast amounts of money by engaging in risky activities. To expect the taxpayers to pay to clean up the mess would be rather unfair.

For those who are against socialism, the argument against the state cleaning things up is easy enough: the state should not be a nanny state and should not provide a socialist clean up. The Tea Party folks and others who have been attacking Obama for being a socialist should rally and demand that the oil company provide every penny that the clean up costs. For th state to pick up the tab would be socialism of the most dire sort. So, Tea Party folks, get those signs made up and demand that big government stay out of the clean up. Demand a private sector solution: the company that made the mess pays every damn cent to make things right.

In regards to the damage to the economy from the oil, it seems that the oil company has a moral obligation to pay for all the damages. True, they did not intentionally blow up the oil well. However, they are (as noted above) engaging in a high profit venture that also involves serious risk for everyone else in the area. Since they knowingly put the area at risk (the threats posed by offshore drilling are well known) then they should be obligated to pay for all the damage that they will inflict on the local economies. Failure to do so would be a profound moral failure.

Turning to a final point, this incident shows that perhaps “drill, baby, drill” is not a great idea. True, major oil rig disasters are rare. However, when calculating risk, the possible extent of the damage needs to be considered. This incident shows that offshore drilling poses a significant threat to the environment and the economy. As such, Obama’s rethinking of the change of policy should be reconsidered.

I must admit that I am biased in favor of oil free water and beaches. Also, I live in Florida and having oil defiling our beaches will hurt the economy and income for the state that pays my salary as a professor. I do recognize the need for oil and the desire to make money off oil. However, this incident is yet another lesson as to why it makes good sense to get away from such a polluting, risky and damaging fuel source.

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6 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on April 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    We should have used the stimulus to build 100 nuclear power plants.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      I’m almost pro nuke, except for the waste. Now, if they ever get fusion plants going…

      • T. J. Babson said, on May 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm

        Is there a single documented case of anyone dying from waste from a nuclear power plant?

  2. T. J. Babson said, on May 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Fewer than 50 people died directly as a result of Chernobyl. The number of deaths in the coal and petroleum industries is far higher.

    Of course, it can be argued that Chernobyl is also responsible for an increased number of cancer deaths. Of course in that case we to compare against deaths caused by poor air quality due to burning fossil fuels.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 4, 2010 at 2:29 pm

      Of course, Chernobyl cost the Russians an entire city.

      I’ll agree that oil does a lot of damage and I agree that nuclear power has (in general) a better record. However, both have serious problems.

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