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With friends like these…

April 2, 2010

New I and the Bird #122 at Chuqui 3.0


I usually like to let these things simmer for a bit before I dig into them.  I’m of the opinion that jumping on these issues too soon can put you in the unfortunate position of having to backtrack if you bite off more than you can chew initially.  It’s not a position I always like to be in, the position that puts me clearly and unequivocally in the wrong with nowhere to go.  But in some cases rage, the white-hot blinding kind, is your friend.  It allows you to focus your thoughts more clearly and ignore the little day to day distractions that can ruin a good rant.

Because this thing?  It felt like it hit me square in the gut, a sucker punch that leaves me woozy and light-headed and slightly sick every time I think about it.  I don’t know whether it’s the act itself or the surprise of it or the absolute and utter betrayal that it represents, but the news that came down yesterday is the sort that makes you feel completely disheartened on one hand and furious on the other.  This act, friends?  The announcement by Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar that nearly the entire eastern seaboard, as well as parts of Alaska, will now be open to oil and gas development.

Back in the summer of 2008 when gas prices were going nuts and every politician in the universe was ready to jump on the politically expedient but completely asinine mantra of “Drill, baby, drill”, Obama won support from many environmental minded people, like yours truly, by advocating that the moratorium on drilling of our coasts was the right thing to do in light of the fact that 1) oil production would not come on line for nearly 30 years and 2) by most estimates, including those of the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, there’s not enough oil off the coasts to even have a significant effect on any oil prices.  Oil is a commodity sold on the international market, which means oil from Carolina and oil from Kuwait are exactly the same price.

We are talking about, at most, six months worth of oil 30 years from now.  It’s flat-out stupid to make the argument that any sort of drilling in the United States will effect anything.  When John McCain took the easy way out and called to end the moratorium, Obama took the sensible way and argued against it as an uncertain gamble.  And for that, I was grateful and responded in energy and money for his campaign, which makes his current statements that this recent decision is in line with his campaign promises completely laughable.  Seriously, read this and see if it doesn’t make you sick.

But this?  This is a return to that same ridiculous argument that was nothing but political posturing then and hasn’t changed since.  And worse, drilling off of the Atlantic coast has the potential to do real harm to those of us in coastal states who depend on tourist money and the health of our fisheries.  A year and half ago, when all this was going on the first time, I brought up a fantastic post by my friend Becky Desjardins on why it is so crucial that this doesn’t happen.  I think it’s important enough to bring up again:

– Off the coast of NC we have a unique situation. The warm Gulf Stream mixes with the cold Labrador Current and creates a temperate body of water. In addition, the continental crust extends quite a bit, and then drops suddenly. So you have this unique body of water, combined with a geologic feature that allows it to expand to different depths. In short off the coast of NC the ocean is just teeming with life. Probably one of the reasons the fishing is so renowned.

– All these fish attract a whole lotta pelagic birds. Most breed on remote islands around the world, and they have low productivity (one egg) and are slow to reach sexual maturity (in Northern Gannets, a common winter bird, it takes 8 years). This means that if they have a bad year, i.e. an oil spill, that seriously affects the total population numbers.

-Some pelagic birds that breed in the Caribbean come all the way to the NC gulf stream area to get food for chicks! That is a long round trip. But that’s how important this area is.

-Other birds use the gulf stream as a migration flyway. Studies have shown that Cory’s and Greater Shearwaters (among others) fly to the UK, down the European coast to Africa, and then back across to Latin America. These birds have migration patterns that segregate the males and female and sometimes adults and young. So, if we have an oil spill while the females are coming though? That’s it. That’s all she wrote. There are no more females to come through.

-Not just birds, but there are also pelagic fish (tuna, for example, and the billfish) and whales that migrate here. Lots of turtles, too.

-Once you get out to the Gulf Stream, you have the Sargassum Sea. Sargussum is floating seaweed mats, home to lots of critters: baby sea turtles, sargassum crabs, fish, all kinds of species depend on this ecosystem. Having been out there I can tell you it is already full of trash, but we don’t need it to get oiled.

That it is absolutely awful policy should be enough, but there’s another reason why I’m so livid at this news beyond the obvious environmental concerns.  It’s bad enough that environmental issues have been completely sold out in the interest of energy policy, but for the Obama Administration environmental policy as a whole has been incredibly weak.  I was hesitant about Ken Salazar as Department of Interior.  Given his ranching sympathies I was concerned about his ability to properly manage our public lands and I worried that he would defer too much to extraction interests and not take seriously his responsibility to ecosystems and species on the brink.  I’m sad to say I was completely right about him.  His Interior Department has been nothing short of a disaster.  His record on endangered species is fraught with concessions to energy and grazing interests.  He advocated for the delisting of Gray Wolves leading to the immediate slaughter of a third of the population in the lower 48.  He failed to list Greater Sage Grouse despite bizarrely stating that it should be listed.  He speaks out against mountain top removal mining while at the same time approving new permits.  About the only think that can be said about Obama’s Interior Department is that the rampant sex and drug parties of the Bush Administration’s Interior Department are in the past.  Obviously a high bar, you know?

I guess all this is some sort of appeal to Obama’s centrist credentials, but frankly I can’t understand it.  Our public lands and wildlife are under attack every single day.  We have compromised and compromised and compromised to the point were only a fraction of land exists for wildlife anymore.  If we keep trying to find the “sensible middle” every single time eventually there’s nothing left to give away, and yet advocates for environmental interests are expect to shut our traps and keep conceding at every opportunity.  And this happens again and again and again.

Why? I have no idea, though it probably has something to do with the fact that, in a two party system, we don’t have a choice.  But the ease at which not just Obama specifically, but the entire Democratic Party, discount environmental concerns at every single turn, is enough to put you off the entire political process.  We’re seen as expendable.  The first ballast to chuck.  The concession to give up before even the first hint of conflict.  Which is just what the Obama Administration appears to expect from us going forward if his own announcement is any indication.

Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place.  Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.

Yeah, there’s no place for “old arguments”, but you know what apparently always has its place?  Marginalization of environmental voices.  Because what is science and the public good if not just another extreme position in a tired debate?  It’s this sort of attitude that I’m completely over and, frankly,  I expected better from Obama than to so quickly sell us out simply to make such a blatantly political point; one that will likely bear no fruit if the fight over Health Insurance Reform was any indication.  Maybe that’s my fault.  But to say this is frustrating is the understatement of the year.

And, you know, I just don’t know what else to say about it except that I’m really tired of being shit on.

I mean, how much more are we expected to give?


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