Day 64: The $64,000 question

How will we react to the BP oil spill?
Not just the oil industry, and not just the US government, but we – all of us?
If we react sanely, as John Robbins points out, amazing things are possible. He recalls what happened in the living memory of my parents’ generation:

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. resisted becoming engaged in World War II. But after the attack … the country immediately began a massive restructuring of the economy in order to mobilize for the war effort. Less than a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt announced the goals, which included immediately producing massive numbers of tanks, planes, and anti-aircraft guns. He met with automobile industry leaders, including the heads of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, and told them the country would need them to totally redirect their production facilities in order for the nation to reach these arms production objectives. Soon, the sale of private automobiles was banned. For nearly three years, no cars were produced in the United States, other than those for the army, navy, coast guard, and other military services. In addition, highway and residential construction was halted.

What would a similar response to the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico look like today? What would happen if we conducted a massive redirection of production capacity towards solar panels, plug-in cars, wind generators, home energy efficiency, and research and development in the most promising green technologies? Robbins continues:

When Roosevelt originally announced that the U.S. would need 60,000 planes, experts said it would be impossible to come anywhere close to that number. But as a result of the massive redirection of the country’s productivity, the nation’s needs for planes, tanks, and other military requirements were fully met, and greatly ahead of schedule. In the three years beginning with 1942, the U.S. far exceeded the initial goal, turning out 230,000 aircraft.

The effect of this mobilization is, as the saying goes, history. We will write history based on our response in the coming months. Robbins concludes:

The mobilization of resources that took place within a matter of months is a compelling demonstration that we can restructure the economy swiftly and effectively, if we are convinced of the need to do so. But so far, the prevailing response to the BP oil disaster has been about using safer drilling methods. This strikes me as equivalent to heroin addicts using clean needles. It’s an improvement that does absolutely nothing to challenge the addiction itself.
But what if we were to respond to the tragedy taking place in the Gulf of Mexico and the many other disastrous consequences of our addiction to oil with the same level of urgency and commitment our nation displayed in restructuring the economy during World War II?

That’s the question we should all be asking on day 64 of the oil spill.
(If you’re interested in some of the theological basis for this kind of response to the spill, check out my book Everything Must Change.)