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Published on May 3rd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

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Is BP's Spill Like The '69 Santa Barbara Spill?



The  BP/Haliburton oil spill disaster is front page news in the sorts of newspapers that never mention an even larger environmental disaster: climate change.

Because they don’t; it’s hard to get clean energy legislation passed – because most people don’t give a damn. At least compared to the fossil industry. Their whole raison d’etre is at stake. They care. Most people don’t realize the threat of climate change. Their newspapers never mention it. And there are only two constituencies in energy legislation; most people, and the fossil industry (represented by Senate Republicans).

Since only the richest, most powerful industry in the world cares deeply about the topic – it’s always been “the people” side that has to give. So usually Democrats don’t have hissy fits over not getting their way on every little provision sweetening tough environmental legislation. They try to give a little and compromise for the greater good of passing legislation that reduces overall emissions, even if it means there’s also dirty energy in legislation supposedly to clean our energy supply.

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However, the BP/Haliburton oil spill has brought one of the dangers of fossil fuel dependence home to even the non-environmental American consciousness of most people. The leak from the bottom of the sea is front page news around the country. Now most people are awake to the dangers of drilling for oil under the sea floor – at depths that humans can’t reach.

This moment may be like the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 – because most people got alarmed, that ended California off-shore drilling.

Even people who only watch American Idol now know – there’s an oil spill and it’s bad. You probably know someone like that. They never contact the Senate about clean energy legislation.

Most people never give a moments thought to the far greater devastation that climate change is bringing our civilization. Even as their homes drown or droughts raise farm unemployment to 40%, the largely fossil-fueled media will continue to ensure that most people never do connect the dots.

But this is different. The corporate media is not hiding this news.

Soon most people will see that the Louisiana shrimps and oysters they loved at CostCo won’t be there any more, maybe even for the next ten or twenty years. The Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound still poisons wildlife 20 years later, but there was a comparatively low $300 million in harm done to the fishing industry in Prince William Sound, and $31 million loss to tourism.

The Gulf states are different. As the supplier of 75% of all domestic shrimp, seafood shortages from its $2.5 billion fishing industry alone will affect markets for a generation.

Before the spill, ten Democrats from coastal states stood firm against compromising with Republicans on off-shore oil drilling. Then, that seemed quixotic, as without Democrats, there’s no chance of a climate bill.

That position, formerly far out-on-a-limb, is now greatly strengthened by this accident. This disaster provides a huge opportunity to actually get clean energy legislation that cleans our energy supply. Because only when most people care about something, does policy change.

But most people don’t know who to tell. The Senate switchboard is (202) 224 3121.

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • Susanne Mori

    Santa Barbara has natural oil seeps not related to drilling.

  • Margaret

    On a recent trip to Santa Barbara beaches I noticed tiny spots of tar on the bottoms of my feet. I’d like to know if this is a result of the spill 40 years ago. If this is the case, I think the public should be aware that the situation in the Gulf will be an almost permanent one.

  • Tom Lakosh

    “but there was no fishing industry in Prince William Sound”

    As one of the 30,000 oiled fishermen plaintiffs from PWS to Kodiak in Re: Exxon Valdez I’ve got to suggest you check your facts before you print them. Jeeze Susan

    • http://cleantechnica.com/author/susan Susan Kraemer

      Woops. Corrected.

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