The Oil Spill and Other Items – May 17, 2010

The Oil Spill

I don’t much buy the notion that the BP oil spill could be Obama’s “Katrina.”  In the first place, he gets a lot more slack from the press than Bush ever did, so even if he did make a hash of it, the buzzsaw would not be spinning for him.  But I don’t frankly think the government is doing anything wrong here that one could not expect the government to do under similar circumstances.  Bureaucracies are by nature lumbering and slow, and if the federal machinery took some time to respond, or if they didn’t have precisely the right slick-containment equipment on site from the get-go, well it’s to be expected.  Government agencies should be the last ones expected to be 100% effective.

There will be some amusing ironies, I expect, about how the relevant agencies were in the process of awarding BP commendations for offshore safety just as this calamity struck.  And of course Obama is wearing some egg on his face for authorizing further offshore exploration just a few weeks before the blast.  My concern is for what comes next.  The last thing this disaster should be used for is an argument against offshore drilling.  But that’s the way it is moving – to nobody’s surprise, I suppose.  In California they are already scaling back plans to approve drilling consignments, and you can bet the Federal plans to open up exploration off the eastern seaboard are on ice for a while.
In a word, the generation of energy is not going to be without accidents, no matter where it comes from.  If we limit deep-water drilling, we will replace that oil with oil brought in by tanker from foreign countries.  This has multiple negatives: first, the environmental controls on oil production in, say, Nigeria fall far short of those prevailing here, so for a given quantity of oil the earth is better off if we extract it here (of course, the US environmental lobby doesn’t really care about depredations elsewhere unless they can use it as a club to beat Western corporations).  Second, accidents and spills are more common and more dangerous with tanker transport than with local drilling.  One of the reasons this oil spill has been so confounding is that it is so off-the-charts unique an event – remember how well the Gulf-full of oil rigs handled Katrina, Rita and all the other Force Five hurricanes we have experienced in recent years?  It’s actually a pretty darned problem-free method, until of course it isn’t.  Third, there is the argument about funding governments who hate us.  No need to elaborate there.
In the short term, if we reduce offshore extraction of oil, we will replace it with oil from elsewhere.  There is no viable substitute.  But the risk is greater yet.  If this accident sparks a rejection of offshore drilling, if the aftermath is similar to that of Three Mile Island, which killed nuclear power for a generation in this country, we could be facing a very rough future.  The environmentalists in and around the Obama administration may take this as an ideal time to push for “clean energy,” to replace demon carbon with something more blessed by Gaia.  But however laudable that might be in the long run – and I have grave doubts – in the short run it means more expensive power, more government subsidy, and naturally, higher deficits and later on more taxes.  All of those things will contribute to slowing an economy that is in dire need of speeding up.
As I said, energy is accident prone.  Whether it is mine collapses, oil spills, or Three Mile Island meltdowns, the major conventional sources of energy are risky – and that is a price our society accepts in exchange for abundant power (which, I hasten to add, has been instrumental to our economic success for decades).  Other sources may be less obviously risky: hydropower, for instance.  Apart from the people who have died building the dams, and the inundation of property by the lakes thus formed, there haven’t been too many calamities related to hydro.  Until, of course, a dam weakens from old age or unforeseen structural problems, and a flood ensues.  How about wind power?  The better classes who inhabit Hyannis may not like all those tall monsters obstructing their view, and the poor slobs whose property has to be taken over for the necessary transmission lines may not like it (trust me, this government will have no qualms about stomping over private property rights in order to feed its green dreams of glory), but there’s no risk of environmental disaster here, right?  Well, you might feel differently about that if you were a bird, and your relatives were being slaughtered by the tens of thousands for the sake of lighting the homes of those heavy flightless ones.  Besides, I wonder, can we truly absorb wind energy sufficient to power a city and have no side effect?  Won’t it set up disturbances in weather patterns, in rainfall, in warming and cooling cycles, in crop seasons that we can only guess at?
The bottom line about energy is that there is no substitute for petroleum.  It is, ounce for portable ounce, the most potent and efficient form of energy.  And energy and prosperity are inextricably linked.  My fear is that the Obama administration will follow its green ideology, and use this accident as justification, to the logical conclusion, which means higher prices for all, more poverty, less growth, fewer jobs, and greater federal deficits.  I suspect that might be a price Obama is willing to pay, if the intended result is a reduction of our carbon-dependency.  I doubt, if they put it to a referendum, that a majority of Americans would agree.
A Mosque at Ground Zero
Plans have been approved to build a mosque near the site of the Twin Towers in New York.  It is meant to be big – 13 stories – and to be as much a Muslim outreach center as a place for contemplation and prayer.  Its purpose, according to Feisal Abdul Rauf, an imam who is leading the project, is to stand as a statement of solidarity between American Muslims and their compatriots, not as an isolationist center for Islamic self-focus and resentment.
It has become very controversial – people have likened it to building a German cultural center at Auschwitz.  Also raising a storm are plans to stage a grand opening on September 11, 2011.
Here’s my view: we have been saying for nearly ten years, “where are the moderate Muslims who say they condemn these acts of terrorism?”  By their reticence, they let it appear that Islam has one principle voice – that of jihad.  Here’s their chance to make a strong statement in favor of our common values – of humanity, of pluralism, of tolerance.  This can and should be the place reporters go after every outrage to hear the voice of someone speaking for the Muslims who abhor the nihilism of the terrorists.
People who reject it because it is Muslim are not true to the values they claim to hold.  If we condemn all Islam because of bin Laden and al-Awlaki and their ilk, then we have adopted a kind of racism just as invidious as that against blacks that we are finally in the process of shedding.  I also think it is appropriate to have it near Ground Zero, and not precisely on the spot.  Again, its purpose is to reject the credo of the terrorists, so having it near the site gives it extra power.
But – and this is a major but – it should not open on the anniversary.  In the first place, that day will be occupied by very large commemorations and reflections on the events of that day and since, and to steal the spotlight even a little for something like this shows appalling insensitivity.  Imagine how the legions of the multicultural brigades would howl if it were Americans opening a comparable memorial in some other highly sensitive spot – Nagasaki, for instance.
A far more appropriate day would be Sept 12.  In the aftermath, we were looking for the voices of moderate Islam.  Let the anniversary of the aftermath be graced by a temple to tolerance.
One final but – I think people are rightly concerned that the good intentions of this mosque might be perverted through a takeover by rejectionist imams.  How would we react then?  It must not become a highly visible contagion center for Islamic America-hatred.  I don’t know how you prevent that from the start, but I think the city fathers ought to see that the mosque’s charter contains appropriate language that would enable the city to close the place if it became a nest of vipers.
But I don’t think that is argument against the project.  Approval of it would illustrate the towering grace of the American ideal.  We should embrace it, and give the lie to those in Muslim lands across the world who say Americans hate Islam.  The last thing we should do is validate that notion.
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