The Needle, the Damage Done

I’ve seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone …

– Neil Young

As I start to wrap things up for a visit to my sister and her family – and the birth of my new nephew – out east later this week, there are a few things I have to admit.

I am not okay.  Doing well at work won’t help.  Knowing that I’m trying to do better every day won’t either.  The injury is real and it continues and it weighs on my soul.  It’s waiting for me each day when I get up; it hovers over me, saffron-black and spreading, as I fall asleep every night.  I still have a huge problem and I’m not doing anything about it.

It feels though I am in the Gulf of Mexico and can not leave.  This disaster is beyond the reach of politics now.  There is no partisan, corporate, or even national blame in the world that can reach it any more.  It’s personal.

NASA satellite image of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, May 23, 2010

I bought a car this year.  The Deepwater Horizon tragedy is mine.

I owe my new perspective to a couple of smart people.  Thank you, Ezra Klein, for explaining what we’re buying when we buy gas.

Most of us would call the BP spill a tragedy. Ask an economist what it is, however, and you’ll hear a different word: ‘externality.’ An externality is a cost that’s not paid by the person, or people, using the good that creates the cost. …

The gasoline you’re buying at the pump is — stick with me here — too cheap. The price you pay is less than the product’s true cost. A lot less, actually. … Gasoline has so many hidden costs that there’s a cottage industry devoted to tallying them up. …

What’s the economic value of a whale? Of a pelican? Of plankton? The nation’s been horrified by the photographs of oil-soaked wildlife, but how much is not being horrified actually worth to us? And is not knowing about the problem enough to solve it? … When trying to put a price on that damage, do we think it varies by country? Is Kenya’s environment worth less than our own? …

Thanks as well to Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, who was so inspired by a letter he saw printed in a South Carolina newspaper that he reprinted it, and expanded on the subject.  That subject:  responsibility.

The letter, in part:

‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something.

So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry.

So am I, my friend.  So am I.


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