Saturday, July 5, 2008

disappearing orangutans + offshore drilling

Today's disconcerting news is that not only are the world's only wild populations of orangutans disappearing at an alarming rate (I mentioned this phenomenon briefly in an article I wrote for the current issue of LOUDmouth) no thanks to the global palm-oil industry, but also suddenly Americans who are "angry" over $4 gas are in favor of offshore drilling.

First, the orangutans. Of all the world problems we're creating and facing today, and although I am vegetarian, protecting animals hasn't been an issue that particularly resonates with me. (Hell, I haven't even gone to visit the pandas once the three years I've been in Chengdu.) But the orangutans get to me. Not the orangutans themselves, perhaps, but the scenario that led to this outcome: a huge worldwide demand for palm oil. Why? Palm oil was once touted as an environmentally friendly, do-good, alternative component of many daily-use products, ranging from cooking to hygiene and even to bio-fuel. The trees that produce palm are grown mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. So, naturally, deforestation began because there was a resource that could be converted to cash when sold to the West. Unfortunately for the orangutans, that meant their natural habitat was being destroyed as quickly as loggers could cut down the trees. The AP article plays up the fact that environmental education needs to be put into place at the local level, which, sure, is true--but completely fails to mention any responsibility on the part of the consumers and the parties responsible for driving demand.

Second, the offshore drilling. Now, I don't know that much about the potential negative consequences of offshore drilling beyond the obvious, but a) I have to assume that there was a reason for the moratorium placed in 1981, so why is that reason suddenly now irrelevant because some Americans are angry over $4 gas; b) At the rate we're (the global we, with an especially long finger pointing at the U.S., who according to this article, uses a quarter of all the oil we consume) consuming oil, no matter how much we find, there will never be enough; and c) Who the hell do these people think they are?

The crux of the problem is that people can't seem to see past the end of the gas nozzle on this. As long as they can get in their cars and go where they want to go at the price they've been accustomed to paying for decades, they don't care. But as soon as it gets inconvenient, or more expensive, they're ready to go to the ends of the earth--places that were formerly forbidden--to search for more. This is no way to address the problem. Whether or not these new areas yield tons of oil, it's still a finite resource. Whether or not offshore drilling has disastrous consequences on the environment, it's not going to yield an eternal spring of oil that can keep the entire Western world and add a growing number of people in "developing nations" behind their steering wheels and living as decadently as Americans in the latter half of the 20th century. Times are changing, and it's time to get used to it.

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