The BP oil spill is not alone
For some context on the BP oil spill, I highly recommend this analysis from John Broder and Tom Zeller:
The Deepwater Horizon blowout is not unprecedented, nor is it yet among the worst oil accidents in history. ... The ruptured well, currently pouring an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the gulf, could flow for years and still not begin to approach the 36 billion gallons of oil spilled by retreating Iraqi forces when they left Kuwait in 1991. It is not yet close to the magnitude of the Ixtoc I blowout in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico in 1979, which spilled an estimated 140 million gallons of crude before the gusher could be stopped.
And it will have to get much worse before it approaches the impact of the Exxon Valdez accident of 1989, which contaminated 1,300 miles of largely untouched shoreline and killed tens of thousands of seabirds, otters and seals along with 250 eagles and 22 killer whales.
I'd think about this less in terms of the BP spill than in terms of the dangers of relying on oil. As Lisa Margonelli told me yesterday, "every gallon of gasoline contains a tremendous amount of risk we don't account for. The American Lung Association estimated that every gallon of gas costs us 50 cents in the asthma rate for children. You have the greenhouse gas question, leakage, spills, explosion, cancer risk from benzene, economic risk from the volatility of the prices, the military cost, and we do not account for all this."
If the cost of spills like this one is too high to bear, then we have to wean ourselves off of oil, not simply get really upset about this spill. Because there will be more spills. And they will happen in parts of the world that we don't pay much attention to, and that don't have our high safety standards or our ability to rush mitigation measures into place. What we're seeing here is not a horrible disaster (though it is that), but a cost of relying on this particular type of fuel. And it has to be factored into our calculations.