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June 24th, 2010
06:58 AM ET

Gut Check: Will BP spill help diminish our reliance on oil?

An explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 20, 2010.

An explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 20, 2010.

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN

(CNN) – Americans have experienced their share of large scale environmental disasters. A few stand out:

-The 19th Century had the Johnstown Flood.
-The 20th Century had the Dust Bowl.

Today, we have the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which may prove to be even worse than its predecessors. While they are loathe to say it, some environmentalists wonder if this is the disaster that finally persuades Americans that the environment is important enough to change the way we live our lives.

Will this disaster, as big as it is, give birth to something as groundbreaking as Earth Day? Or the Clean Air Act?

One movement, "Hands Across the Sand,” is banking on it. Back in February, it drew 10,000 Floridians to join hands on clean beaches to protest offshore oil drilling—and that was BEFORE the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

This weekend, "Hands" says it is going international. 599 American cities will take part along with 20 nations.

David Rauschkolb is the founder of “Hands Across the Sand.” He told us it’s “a huge opportunity for us and it's time that we take control of our energy future.” Watch Video

Sound familiar?

Back in1970, “Earth Day” promised to put the environment front and center in the public’s consciousness. It was born just a year after the Santa Barbara Oil spill, which also captured the nation’s attention. The Santa Barbara spill even brought President Nixon to inspect the oily beaches there. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created.

What about now?

Environmental groups are hoping to recruit new members and encourage the public to push Congress and the president to clean up the environment and, once and for all, move the nation away from fossil fuels. The Clean Energy Works Campaign has launched an ad campaign pushing for Clean Energy legislation. Greenpeace is using the spill as catalyst too, encouraging its members to join a contest to “re-brand” the BP logo. They’ve attracted half-a-million visitors to its Web site.

The Sierra Club's site is hot too, after Rush Limbaugh blamed environmentalists for forcing on-shore drilling off-shore. Limbaugh said on his radio show, “When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak?” The club used Limbaugh's comments to raise $120,000 dollars and 110,000 signatures for climate legislation.

The Sierra Club’s president, Michael Brune, told us, “This is our chance to actually move beyond oil. And the outstanding question, the question that remains, is whether or not President Obama will seize this opportunity and get us off oil once and for all.”

While all the passion sounds good for, what critics would call, tree-huggers - is it real? Psychologist Jeff Gardere says, while oiled birds, dirtied beaches and black tides will raise awareness, it may not last. After all, there are government regulators already in place who are supposed to prevent disasters like this, and didn't. So, why bother?

Environmentalists get that, but say this disaster will cut through the cynicism.

Brune told us, “We've set the ocean on fire. We've put thousands of fishermen and women out of work. The coastal tourism economy is collapsing. And all of this is happening in slow motion.”

Perhaps our complicated relationship with the environment is perfectly illustrated in the Gulf. While fishermen and those who make their money off the beauty of the land are incensed at BP, few of them want to see offshore drilling or America's dependence on oil decrease. They need oil too to fuel the Gulf's economy.

What do you think? Will this environmental disaster diminish our reliance on oil?


Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Gut Check
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. James Kastrick

    I think it won't matter at all. As long as it is allowed for the Oil Companies to BRIBE the United States Government (lobbyists) There will never be a day where this country becomes as great as it was 50 years ago.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  2. Mike M.

    The disaster in the the Gulf has literally backfired on "Big Oil" and hopefully awakened the reality that our planet and the income of many is in jeopardy. This must now become a national priority to convert to alternative fuel to survive. Like our economy, we only get one warning.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  3. Jac

    Yes, it is going to take years to get past this debacle. Hopefully, we oil-addicts stay will develop and switch to primarily using clean, renewable energy alternatives. (Nuclear is not renewable). It's been discussed by every adminstration for the past 30yrs.
    While we don't currently "have the resources to drop oil completely", we can take steps now pursue renewable energy and implement stronger safeguard standards.
    If not now? Then when will it ever happen?

    Oil companies have been having incidents for decades around the globe but we only cry about it when it hits our shores. Unfortunately once the headlines are over, the momentum dies off and so does the push to follow-thru and finally have our representatives who are basically Oil-Lackeys, fail to create a sustainable energy plan that focuses on renewable energy.
    Our representatives nn to get a Backbone. Stand up for us for a change
    ~~~~~~~~~~~
    Good suggestion Raj to garner their profits for 20 years.., especially when one considers that the Exxon Valdez spill is having an impact.

    June 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Raj Kapoor

    All mighty dollars, political weaknesses and greed took over BP, its operating conditions and British in-aptitude to accept good suggestions coming from US employees and continuing to work old ways brought this disaster. Having worked for ARUP a British company where when I suggested how to improve design, British designers took the suggestion with grain of salt, because I broadcasted the errors on the network of company, however although I did get following of junior engineers from across the world, the president of US Division had personal talk with me telling my how senior, intelligent and knowledgeable British engineers were. Yes, since they were with company for 30 years or were in their 70's may give them advantage of the company be they in BP or any company but does not give me right to claim to be the best. Just see how old Noble Prize Winners are and if they were so good, why had they made errors and placed some of the emergency equipment below water levels in flood zones? Are people who learn from their own mistake are smart or those who learn from other's mistakes.
    Time has come where such deviations from laws or rules should be exposed fast and in timely manner, even if it means losing the job. The company that has hard line office managers should wake up and get professionals who know and have gone through decision making methods.
    Although we do not know why the Gulf disaster happened, when will leak stop? When will leak will be zero gallon? Are we going to convert Gulf to Red Sea? Why is 20 Billion commitment sufficient and not 50% profits for next 20 years ?

    June 25, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  5. searay

    I just heard Carol Costello say "one problem is enabling" when discussing unemployment benefits – When is CNN gonna get it Carol Costello of "Is there too much emotion in the Gulf" fame needs to lose her job so she understands what it feels like when her enablers finally decide to get healthy – CNN stop Enabling Carol Costello to spread STUPID around – you should have fired her when you replaced her with Kiran – finish the job & stop enabling Carol

    June 25, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  6. Debra

    Carol–I have a question for you. Is it true that Louisiana Gov. Jindal has ~6000 National Guard troops made available to him by the fed. gov. but he's only called up ~1100? and yet he still complains that the feds aren't doing enough?

    June 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  7. Smith in Oregon

    As long as Republican lawmakers continue to obstruct, block, filibuster all the pending and current legislation, America's total dependence on Oil and foreign Oil is going to continue.

    Not a single Republican politician in the Gulf States is advocating Ethanol plants in their States. Ethanol can be directly used for fuel, does not poison the water table, does not contaminate any beaches. Commercial Ethanol plants during their life produce more usable fuel than any existing Oil well production off the coast of Louisiana.

    Ethanol is carbon neutral, the carbon released by burning was the same amount present when it was made. Unlike fossil fuel which contributes to super saturating the Ocean with carbon killing sea life and polluting the earth.

    The only way to diminish America's reliance on Oil is to vote in more Democratic lawmakers State wide and in Washington.

    June 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  8. WHY

    Oil greed will beat the environment any day.

    June 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  9. arthur

    the almighty dollar always comes into play. we`ll pump oil untill it starts to run out. then big oil will move onto something else. probably coal because there`s so much of it and cheap to mine. we drive less when gas gets too high, so they lower it a little and we drive more. whatever "they" decide is what "we" will do. there`s a lot of money in oil and they aren`t going to let it sit there. do you think there`s an unwritten deal between big oil and the car companys who absolutly depend on each other? we can buy hydrogen cars but they`re costly and not many of them. maybe when we gave all that money to the car companys we should have made them spend a percentage of it on alternate fueled cars.

    June 24, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  10. Marsha Groce

    "Hands" sounds great! "Hands On" would be a better approach to the situation in the gulf. I would like to see not only the clean up but for the government and BP getting together with environmental people all over the world and begin creating New careers for the fishermen and reconstruct the way they fish. In Tennessee we have a pearl farm, we also grow shrimp and they are not little either. They need to take the poor little animals coming close to the shore as they are in Navarre' Fla. just begging people to take them out of this mess before it happens. They can't breathe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! People's lives are at stake here and they need to have help in going into the inner land and look at the water there to see where they can take the animals they still have left and create a new way of fishing but it must be done now.
    It will take years to create a new way of life for the fisherman. It will take more years to recover or it may never recover as we knew our shores. Where is Al Gore in all of this? Al we need you now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 24, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  11. Lillene Ebanks

    The Gulf BP Oil spill will minimally reduce our dependence on foreign oil as people are now educated and we know the root cause of our activities in oil rich countries. But we are aware that our country will never have the seem oil needs are older countries in Europe as our cities have freeways with over passes not subways! We will not change that! We must vote for Commanders in Chiefs who know how to steer the political wheel to ensure that our way of life and our unique transportation system is affordable! Transportation drives jobs which sustains life so itis our main issue when sekecting our next president! Go W1

    June 24, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  12. JAY

    Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to relive it. – George Santayana

    June 24, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  13. Larry

    The well will be plugged soon and the major of the clean up will be over by next summer. The American people have very short term memory and it will not change the way we consume oil. It will take new government policys and rules in regards to energy usage that will create real change.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  14. Gary Henderson

    This nation's dependence on oil is much like the relationship a drug addict has with a drug supplier. The addict knows the drug is hurting him; he hates the dealer for supplying the drug that is doing him so much damage; and the last thing he wants is for the supplier to go away.

    Oil is a huge source of revenue to LA, MS, AL and FL. We are aware of the damage it does to the air, the oceans, wildlife and human beings. We hate being dependent on oil and the companies and countries which produce and supply it. On some level we know it is killing us. And we are unable to give it up. We don't want the suppliers to go away.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  15. Shebee278

    If we don't learn something from this and change our ways, we are indeed an ignorant society.

    This time it was an explosion, perhaps due to faulty equipment (who knows? – hence the moratorium). Next time it could be a large oil tanker hitting a platform, an act of terror, or an earthquake. What is clear, oil drills aren't safe. Another one of these, and the Gulf will be D-E-A-D, dead!

    June 24, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  16. Jim

    The oil tragedy / aviation (we can't ground all airplanes if one crashes!) analogy is completely false.

    When the first commercial jet, the Comet, crashed inexplicably in 1954, the entire fleet was grounded until the problem was solved.

    This is the true analogy that should be our guiding light today.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  17. Carolynne

    Idiotic to drill a mile below the ocean's surface, when there is so much oil inland ... Alaska, Montana. Yes, blame BP, but also blame our current administration - they may not know how to fix the problem, but they should be smart enough to have QUICKLY hired those who do. Ample time to save the coast, before the oil reached there. Environmentally? Want to trust someone with more nuclear facilities, when the "half life" of that material is beyond our imagination? We need all sources of energy from our OWN resources, but that very definitely includes OIL! Wake up tree huggers - we don't want to live without electricity, heat with a wood burning stove, or travel by horse and carriage!

    June 24, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  18. Elizabeth Sawin

    The WORLD will run out of fossil fuels in 95 years according to geomorphologists like Professor Kenneth Deffeyes. That fact is "written in the rocks" and is not an environmentalist's exaggeration. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico ought to be a clarion call for serious investment in alternative energy systems by our government and private industry. And it ought to be a warning to "first world" countries (like the USA) who consume 25% of the world's resources although they constitute only 5% of the world's population. Our energy practices are unsustainable. All Americans ought to look seriously at their own wasteful practices and begin to conserve energy wherever and whenever they can.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  19. Jeff Carter

    The destruction of the Gulf of Mexico is real, continuing, and will impact us for decades. But, it is what it is, and will not go away. We will just have to accept that. For the 'environmental' extremists to use this to push their agenda was something I think we all expected. However, this is real, compared to the fabricated scare of global warming being caused my us driving our vehicles....trying to make us believe that not using fossil fuels at all would make a difference.

    Adding 'carbon' taxes' along with making fuel more expensive is just another way to suck more money from the middle class. The wealthy really don't care how much they pay for gasoline or how much it costs to heat or cool their homes, but some of us, especially in rural areas MUST drive to our jobs. I, myself, don't use any more fuel than I have to, but still have to use 25 gallons a week. Along with increases in electricity prices that are directly related to the cost of oil/gas/coal, it eliminates any extra disposable income that we have. It is apparent, that when we talk about the economic concerns, the only sector that is important is that energy companies survive...while other aspects of the economy suffers.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  20. cat

    I hope this finally moves us towards embracing the reality of energy's future. We need to get off fossil fuels and switch to an array of renewable, sustainable fuels and increased efficiency, as the rest of the world is doing. If this disaster does not highlight the risks enough, I am not sure anything will.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  21. Jim

    Your story which just ran on the air about the effect of the oil tragedy on environmental awareness was like so many others..... "do people really care enough" and "people love their cars too much", so you only thought that this might affect the pending energy bill in Congress, but not anybody's personal habits.

    Does this comes down to "Sacrifice the precious environment" or "Sacrifice our lifestyle"?

    My answer is a resounding yes! We do have choices, both on a national policy level and a personal level.

    We also have to weigh freedom and responsibility. Should we all not be responsible for what we do?

    The bottom line is that the "American dream", which depends on more and greater consumption, a big car and a big home, and leaves unfunded waste, is making our country wretched.

    Systemic change, and real patriotism, is required at this time of endless war, financial system collapse, and yes, environmental degradation that is a shock to anybody that bothers to think about it.

    We can reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 50% in short order. Europeans already use half of what do!

    June 24, 2010 at 9:02 am |
  22. Scott McCray

    I think BP has really messed up this time I don't usually have to much to say on things like this but this is very serious. The fact that the CEO went yachting is disgraceful. Why not donate his yacht to help in the crisis. They are ruining not only the enviroment but tourism, fishing many other business that branch of those industries. Now I'm just wondering when gas prices are going to skyrocket now.

    June 24, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  23. Kristin

    Connecting the BP oil spill disaster to the need for climate legislation is not about pushing a policy objective forward. Climate legislation is the vehicle for gradually weaning America off of dirty sources of fuel and helping spark the growth of a renewable energy infrastructure.

    Yes, American's relationship to oil is complicated. We need it, we need drilling. Our lifestyles demand it. But all of us would agree that we need to use less oil. That is where we need our elected officials to step in and deliver.

    Help me reduce my energy use by inspiring new technologies. Help me use more clean energy because it's more available.

    The oil spill is a very visible impact of our addiction to dirty fuels impacting an ecosystem. It has been happening for YEARS. Global climate change is gradually changing the makeup of habitats, nesting and migration behaviors of birds and other wildlife, and oh yes–putting Americans out of work by screwing with the environment they depend on. Ask anybody in Arkansas who depends on duck hunting to make a living – what happens when the ducks don't fly as far south in winter?

    Passing climate legislation must be the top priority for President Obama and every decision maker with influence on the topic. If they want to show a true commitment to not letting another American lose their job because our energy needs destroyed an ecosystem that we depended on, STEP UP!

    June 24, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  24. Lawson

    I think this puts the issue out there, but it is going to take more to get most Americans to think about leaving oil. But the reality is that we HAVE to get rid of oil eventually. The time is now to really start supporting clean energy for the future.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  25. Susie

    If this event does not wake up America nothing will. Sadly, big oil and other powerful corporations have bought Washington and continues to do so as we type. As long as lobbyists can buy our "representatives" they are not our representatives.

    Nothing will change until Washington changes. Don't get your hopes up.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  26. Marcia Brewer

    I live in south Louisiana and my heart is broken. I have made changes in my life concerning oil usuage because of this disaster. I think if people would just start with a small change, they will realize it's not so hard to do. The technology exists but "the powers that be" are ready to take the hit to their pocketbook.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  27. JAY

    One of the hosts on CNN's "AM Fix" offered the analogy (with regards to the Obama Administration's 6-month moratorium on deep sea oil drilling) that "when an airplane crashes, you don't ground all the airplanes in the country".

    This is a FALSE analogy: unlike the BP oil spill, when an airplane crashes – it doesn't destroy an entire region of a country.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  28. Matt Rosenberg

    I get that BP made a mistake, and is right now damaging the southern section of the country, but this doesn't mean no oil ever again. As a country, we need to make sure we never allow this again, and moderately transform into alternative energy. We don't have the resources to drop oil completely, as the majority of people still drive cars that requires the oil that is leaking into the gulf. What this should be a call for is a majority of renewable energy and more attention paid to the rigs. That doesn't mean a 6 month ban on drilling, remember the people on the rigs have drops too, like the fisherman and tourist-companies.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  29. WHY

    We have been drinking Texas tea for way too long, it's time to move on to something else.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  30. Rita

    No! This tragedy hasn't taught us anything, we are already in the courts fighting to drill baby drill.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  31. Sherry

    The tragedy in the Gulf will continue to unfold for decades. If this doesn't put the cost of fossil fuel addiction ahead of the money that powers special interests, nothing will. If we do not heed this message, in a few generations the planet will no longer be worth living on.

    In my area we are now looking at the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for "clean" natural gas in the Marcellus shale. New York State would like to make a few bucks at the risk of water contamination, and the reputations of natural gas drillers is as murky as those of the oil industry. You can't drink money.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  32. David S

    My wish is, that this tragedy will wound us, forcing us to learn to heal our wound: that through this disaster we will throw our money into the emerging science of self replicating hydrogen producing bacteria.
    However, as usual, we will be wounded, heavily blindfolded by lobbyists, and so caught up in what we’re told. So Instead of tending to our festering wound, learning to heal our oil dependency disease, we’ll ignore the wound, and our disease will become even worse than it was before the spill.

    June 24, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  33. scott

    This disaster will at least illuminate the issue iself. It simply must. With all of its gut-wrenching short and long term effects, this event has one potential silver lining. It is bringing American Citizens together across party affiliations, and is sending a message to DC that Americans aren't looking for ideological spin on this – just ask Congressman Barton. BTW, Carol and John get my vote for best on air chemistry / dynamics.

    June 24, 2010 at 7:14 am |