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BP's Hole in the World: The Absurdity of the Fix-It Mentality

The BP disaster shows how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle.

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The same goes for geo-engineering. As climate change negotiations wear on, we should be ready to hear more from Steven Koonin, Obama's under secretary of energy for science. He is one of the leading proponents of the idea that climate change can be combated with techno tricks like releasing sulfate and aluminum particles into the atmosphere—and of course it's all perfectly safe, just like Disneyland! He also happens to be BP's former chief scientist, the man who just fifteen months ago was overseeing the technology behind BP's supposedly safe charge into deepwater drilling. Maybe this time we will opt not to let the good doctor experiment with the physics and chemistry of the Earth and choose instead to reduce our consumption and shift to renewable energies, which have the virtue that, when they fail, they fail small. As comedian Bill Maher put it, "You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash."

The most positive possible outcome of this disaster would be not only an acceleration of renewable energy sources like wind but a full embrace of the precautionary principle of science. The mirror opposite of Hayward's "If you knew you could not fail" credo, the precautionary principle holds that "when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health" we tread carefully, as if failure were possible, even likely. Perhaps we can even get Hayward a new desk plaque to contemplate as he signs compensation checks. "You act like you know, but you don't know."

 

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). Read more at Naomiklein.com.

 
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