How’s that “Drill, Baby, Drill” thing working out for you now?

In the popular 1984 movie Ghostbusters, there’s a scene where the mayor of New York City is trying to decide if he should trust the Ghostbusters or not. On one hand he has a bunch of popular whackos who claim to be able to deal with the rampant, bizarre paranormal events plaguing his metropolis. On the other hand, he has his adviser from the EPA saying the Ghostbusters are con artists and should go to jail. He asks Bill Murray what happens if he’s wrong, and Murray replies, “If I’m wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail – peacefully, quietly. We’ll enjoy it! But if I’m *right*, and we *can* stop this thing… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.”

I have the same sort of feelings about climate change. Despite an overwhelming number of credible scientists (over 80%) believing that both global warming is real and human actions have caused it, there is still rampant doubt in political circles that it exists. Fox News commentators were often heard muttering that if global warming is true, how could there be such prolific blizzards this past winter? (Fox News commentators are invited to read about the first law of thermodynamics) Let’s look at this from a skeptic’s point of view. If they’re right, and global warming is just a big scientific error or big liberal hoax, we should ignore efforts to curb fossil fuels and not worry about that South American rainforest. Exxon-Mobile, BP, Haliburton, and other major corporations involved in oil have a vested interest to be able to find and sell as much oil as possible. Strange that such large, powerful corporations would need to spend so much on lobbying when they already receive such massive tax breaks from the US government.

What about the flip side, though? What if environmentalists are wrong? If they’re wrong and climate change doesn’t exist, we’re spending lots of money to find alternative energy sources, specifically focusing on natural gas, solar and wind power as well as electric cars. We’ve already spent over a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq – had we used that money to fund research in alternative fuel, would we even need the middle east? Let’s face it, we didn’t really go into Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction. When it was revealed that those weapons never existed, the Cheney administration changed its tune and said we went in there to topple a horrible dictator and bring democracy to the region. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but we have no more right to do that than Russia does to come and make this a fascist nation. We went into Iraq to gain money and oil, and at what cost? Thousands of US lives, tens of thousands of other lives are gone. Many more people horrible wounded and crippled for life, all for what? Oil. If the environmentalists are wrong, we’ll be spending less money and probably no lives than the Iraqi war to come up with new technology that may help ween us off our dependence for oil, and a lot of scientists will go down in history as having been wrong.

But if environmentalists are right, and climate change is real and we ignore it, what’s at stake? Predictions are pretty widespread on this. The amount of polar ice melting from just a few degrees of overall planetary atmospheric warming is enough to raise ocean levels by anywhere from a few inches to a few feet. A few feet would leave many of the most highly populated areas of the Earth under water. 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet of sea level. About two thirds of the world’s cities with over five million people are located in these low-lying coastal areas. You think crowding is bad now? Let’s sink the bulk of Florida and see how bad it gets.

Despite recent examples of what happens when our addiction for fossil fuels goes bad, notably the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, party lines have for the most part not changed. Louisiana is right now, as I type this, having hundreds of miles of coastline covered in oil and sludge and thousands of animals are dead. Thousands more will die. The entire fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico is at risk of collapsing. You’d think that the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal (R), would be outspoken against this. Not with oil and gas industries as his 2nd biggest contributor. He’s already called for President Obama to reconsider the ban on deep water drilling, yet every day thousands of more gallons of crude oil pour out of the broken well and pollute the water. Sarah Palin continues to speak across the country that this is an example of why we should drill more with more safety regulations, not less. The Exxon Valdez disaster happened in her home state of Alaska, and is still having an impact on Prince William Sound, over 20 years after the event. Conservative activist judges have multiple times reduced the fine Exxon received after the event to the point where Exxon has paid less than 1/10th of the original court ruling. BP still hasn’t capped the spill, do you really think they’re going to do the right thing and pay for all the cleanup and all the damage this spill has caused and will cause?

There is a Native American saying that goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Despite this, there is a widespread mindset that this current trend of climate change is just a rare but not unexpected anomaly in the history of the planet. If that line of thinking is right, we don’t have anything to worry about, right? Our children will simply have to work harder to live comfortably because they just happen to be in the wrong time. But what if this isn’t just part of the long-term trend? Do you really want to be leaving your kids a trashed-up planet because you wanted $2.50 a gallon gas for your huge SUV? Do you really want your kids grandchildren asking them, “what was Florida like when you were young?”

An OPEC exec once said, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone and the oil age won’t end because we run out of oil.” I’m praying he’s right and it ends because we pull our heads out of our collective butts and find a better alternative to fossil fuels.

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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