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Solar spill or oil spill? You choose

Posted by: laurie
July 15, 2010

Rachel Connor

By Rachel Connor and Matthew Harris, Solar Energy International's Sustainable Building Program Coordinators

Identifying me as an environmentalist long ago, many of my friends, acquaintances and relatives rightfully assume I’m up in arms about the oil catastrophe in the Gulf. They have anger and helplessness in their voices as they passionately express disbelief that oil is still gushing, animals are dying and there is no end in sight. I can empathize with these feelings – I have them all too often.

As with most human-caused disasters, the aftermath has been dominated with blame, accountability and the mishandling of the immediate response. It could of, and should have, been prevented. How will BP be held accountable for destroying an ecosystem and economy? Why has so little been done to galvanize the existing and eager fishing fleet to keep the oil for the shorelines? Important questions, but…

There are unintended consequences to each decision, action and consumer choice we make these days. In the most unfortunate way, this tragedy is the culmination of the collective choices we’ve made regarding our energy consumption. And in the age of agri-business and production home building, these choices go beyond what car we drive or if we buy recycled products. Cheap oil has made the food we eat, the plastic it’s wrapped in and the houses we come home to all possible. We each own a part of this spill. We each allowed this to happen. Sure, the government should have had the stronger regulations in place and BP shouldn’t have put profits in front of safety, but until the demand for the oil gushing into the gulf lessens, all we have is a blind faith that politicians and multinational corporations are going to do what’s right. 

By taking individual responsibility, removing ourselves from the blame game and refusing to believe we aren’t in a position to do anything to help, we can each play an active role at reducing the demand. We can each reduce the return on investment for an oil rig to the point where it doesn’t pay to build more. When we reduce our consumption of energy — from the energy used to power our lights and produce our food to reducing the energy-intensive plastics in our lives — we can grow local economies, support innovation and keep money in our pockets.   

Each day, the sun delivers enough energy to support all of life on our planet. As of the writing this, the oil slick covers 13,422 square miles. Enough sunlight spills on this area to power 141% of the earth’s electrical needs (  Now that’s a spill to get behind (or under)! The solar spill upon us each and every day is hard to get away from — it blankets the earth. And even when the sun goes down for the night in your neighborhood, it comes back up again somewhere else. It’s free, abundant, powerful and has the grace rivaling any energy source we know. Of course there are side effects to solar spills, like glare, sunburn, heart exhaustion, drought and the like. However, with a bit of awareness and simple ingenuity, these can be addressed.

Solar spill or oil spill?  You choose.

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