A Tragedy of Oceanic Proportions

Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video - http://flic.kr/p/84VK74

If we don’t come to our senses and find the right balance fairly soon, nature is likely to do it for us.

By now, almost everyone is familiar with the tragic oil spill in the gulf waters off the southern border of the United States. The factual events of the disaster are tragic enough. On April 20, methane gas shooting up the drill column under high pressure ignited, causing an explosion and raging fire that eventually caused the Deepwater Horizon oil platform to sink. Eleven workers have never been found and are presumed dead. And, with every passing day since the initial explosion, estimates have increased of the amount of oil and gas pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, with no immediate end in sight.

It’s still far too early to get an accurate picture of the likely toll this disaster will take on the environment. Some of the most pristine beaches and the most delicate wetland habitats in the world are under threat. Industries dependent on sea life have been decimated and might never fully recover. So, without any doubt, this is truly a tragedy of oceanic proportions.

As tragic as the facts of the oil spill are, the greater tragedy might lie in the lessons we have long failed to learn that likely played some roles in the cause of the disaster as well as the lessons we still might not be learning as a result of the disaster.

Following the energy crisis in the 70s, the United States sought to bring government efforts to regulate the nuclear industry and efforts to find innovative energy solutions for the future under one cabinet-level entity, which resulted in the creation of the Department of Energy. Almost 40 years and many millions of dollars later, the American public hears essentially the same old tired lines from politicians and industry spokespersons alike: we need to temporarily expand our mining of traditional energy sources while we seek to develop more eco-friendly and renewable new sources. The foolhardiness of trusting in bureaucratic solutions as well as a monumental lack of commitment from industry and the public alike have combined to place and keep us in the deep energy rut in which we presently find ourselves. This, I believe, is the greatest tragedy of all.

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Almost every period of economic hardship in recent history has been rooted, at least in part, by the lack of cheap, reliable energy. The industrialized world depends on energy. And it’s not that we don’t have the talent or the resources to address our energy problems. What we lack is the will to modify our lifestyles and to reach a consensus about the balance we really need to strike. And it’s hard to have an honest discussion or debate about the most essential issues we need to resolve because every stakeholder guards their individual interests and every ideological camp has their unwavering biases and causes célèbres.

In the end, nature is the great equalizer and will have the final say. All of our actions have consequences, especially our actions that impact the environment. If we don’t come to our senses and find the right balance fairly soon, nature is likely to do it for us, and it probably won’t be pretty.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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