Friday, May 7, 2010

How should we think about stuff like the Gulf oil spill?

This is a tough one -- oil companies with corrupt relations with state and federal governments, whom you just want to punch, versus a functioning economy. 'Reason' helps think it through -- by reminding us that it's seldom a black-and-white, good-guys-vs-bad-guys set of issues -- but almost always a set of tradeoffs that need to be honestly evaluated -- even though it suits everyone on all sides to be absolutist:

Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Offshore Drilling
Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey examines the environmental costs and economic benefits of offshore drilling: "Two weeks ago BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers. The exploratory well began gushing oil at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels per day when the blowout prevention system failed. The growing oil slick menaces the marshes and beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Should the slick come ashore, previous research suggests the deleterious effects on fisheries and wildlife would be substantial and long-lasting. As someone who has enjoyed the sugar white sands of Alabama’s beaches, it is a terrible shame that they are at risk of being despoiled by oily muck. But as someone who also enjoys the conveniences of modern civilization including the on-demand mobility offered by airplanes and automobiles that enable me to visit those beaches, I understand deciding whether or not to continue offshore exploration for oil and gas, a calm quantitative approach makes more sense than a rush to ban drilling after seeing some pictures of oily birds. It would be useful to figure out if the costs, economic and ecological, outweigh the benefits of producing offshore oil and gas."

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