Tragic it may be, but the outrage around the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has gifted the world a real window of opportunity. The world’s biggest consumer of oil is really angry about oil right now. It may be the turning point we’ve been waiting for, when oil addiction is finally recognised, and the political will to address it materialises. Even George Bush acknowledged his country’s oil addiction, but Barack Obama’s speech this week offered an unusually candid appraisal of it:
“For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked—not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”
Bold words, and although Obama hasn’t announced any grand plans for tackling the challenge, it’s certainly good to hear that it’s on the agenda. The last time oil depletion was taken this seriously was during the oil crises of the 1970s, and this time around we won’t have the luxury of Ronald Reagan’s policy of burying the issue again as quickly as possible.
For our part, the British government seems to have been avoiding talking about oil. It’s a tricky balance between supporting BP as an important British company, without looking soft on the pollution and corporate slacking behind it. The last thing we want is for the US to start blaming us. “President Obama said to the Prime Minister that his unequivocal view was that BP was a multinational global company and that frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity,” a spokesman is keen to point out on the Number 10 site.
The moment hasn’t been wasted by the opposition however. “This is the opportunity to make a decisive turn in the road towards a post-oil economy: for the US, and for the world, says Ed Miliband.
Let’s hope he’s right.