A slick, sick joke


D id you hear, the top kill failed? It was all over the Web yesterday," my friend in my writing group said Sunday. "Meanwhile, I drove today."

I gave him the laugh. And then I had to admit, I had also driven to the writing group, in downtown Ashland.

My bike's in the shop. It should be fixed this week. That's good, because it gives me some time to drive around and not feel guilty and, if I start to feel guilty, to make jokes about being a columnist who writes about the environment and then drives all over town.

Yes, while there's a giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm dutifully gulping up gasoline at the tank. Oh, the irony.

It's almost as funny as the weird names BP has given to its containment ideas: top hat, top kill, Lower Marine Riser Package Cap Containment System. The names are almost as funny as the fact that BP is now working on its fifth containment strategy, 44 days after thousands of gallons of oil began gushing into the Gulf.

Wait — 44 days?

Wait — 19,000 barrels a day?

Wait — it's already the biggest oil spill in U.S. history? And full containment isn't expected until at least August?

"If the leak is not contained or slowed and continues at the higher estimated flow rate of 19,000 barrels a day until Aug. 20 — four months after the accident — it could amount to close to 2.3 million barrels spilled into the gulf," according to The New York Times on Monday.

Because it's difficult for me to comprehend huge numbers like that, I did the math and converted 2.3 million barrels into something I could picture.

It's equivalent to everyone in the U.S. holding a liter of oil, and then some. So imagine if everyone in Ashland, all 20,000 people, dumped a liter of oil into, say, Lithia Park and the creek flowing through it.

That's the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on a very small scale. The real thing is much, much worse.

This week, after BP announced that the top kill plan had itself died, the fury over the spill began to grow. People are furious with the Obama administration. People are furious with the president himself. People are furious with BP. People are furious with the federal Minerals Management Service.

And so am I. But most of all, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that we're still using so much oil.

It's not easy to change and I don't have all the answers. It's not practical for everyone to sell the family car and bike everywhere. It's not practical for everyone to check every product purchased to see how much oil was used to produce it. It's not practical to use alternative energy all the time.

And, maybe more importantly, it's no fun to be hyper vigilant. But how about being a little more vigilant?

I was inspired last week when Samuel Weishaupt and Philippe Büchel, two 27-year-old environmentalists from Switzerland, stopped by the Daily Tidings office in their souped-up Land Rover. It runs on propane, as well as gasoline.

"Normally, propane is cheaper and much better for the environment," Weishaupt said.

"It's better quality and it has a higher octane rate, so it burns cleaner," Büchel added. "It creates 30 percent less pollution."

Before they set out on the road, traveling to Indonesia to help with a clean water project and to 30 other countries where they did similar environmental work, they were engineers.

They used their mechanical and electrical engineering skills to make a cool, eco-friendly car, because they wanted to travel the world — without trampling it at the same time. I doubt propane is the solution to all our energy problems, but I like the creative spirit behind Büchel and Weishaupt's work.

Meanwhile, I'm picking up my bike today. As I ride it, I'm going to think about what else I can do to reduce my dependence on oil. Because this whole situation — the oil spill, the failure to contain it and the fact that we're still guzzling oil at the pump — seems like a bad joke. It seems like a slick, sick joke. And I'm not laughing anymore.

For more on Weishaupt and Büchel's eco-travels, see oncearoundtheworld.com.

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.

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