"It doesn’t really matter what you do with the BP oil,” said environmental activist, journalist and writer Bill McKibben. He said as much to us when we talked to him right as the scale of the BP oil gusher was becoming clear. McKibben’s point was to compare the difference between the effect of just allowing the BP oil to bleed into the gulf unchecked to just burning it as would have happened in cars and power plants if there had been no leak and the oil just joined the huge river of carbon fuel consumption.
McKibben says we’ve reached a point where the effect on the environment from carbon induced global warming and other emissions is probably not too far off from dumping the oil directly into the wetlands — grim, heartbreaking pictures of oil-soaked seabirds notwithstanding. It makes it easier to evaluate White House Energy advisor Carol Browner’s statement this morning that most of the BP oil has been eliminated in some way through natural processes like evaporation.
She may think she’s telling us that we might have dodged a bullet, environmentally speaking, but McKibben reminds us that Browner’s statements are perhaps mostly a sign of how much environmental impact we’re willing to tolerate. Our consciousness of the pain of actually taking serious steps to reduce consumption of oil translates into a kind of numbing. It’s harder for us to actually feel pain from environmental degradation. Burn it, drink it, spill it, or dump it in the landfill. The oil is there somewhere. It’s only truly benign in the ground where it was originally formed a few million years ago.