House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said friday that BP should be held accountable for all damages caused by the British company's horrendous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In pandering to public anger at BP, however, Pelosi misses the real point of this tragedy. Yes, BP may be guilty of gross negligence, and, yes, if the company wants to stay in business in the U.S., it will have to pay all fines and claims that the U.S. Government and U.S. courts deem appropriate. But BP is not the first oil company to have a huge accident, and it won't be the last. These companies are merely flawed purveyors of a product that we Americans can't get enough of. The real cause of the Gulf disaster is our insatiable thirst for oil.
Oil and its filthy cousin coal are dirty, dangerous fuels that have destroyed countless lives and are fast destroying our climate. Who knows how much damage is now being inflicted on the fragile ecosystem along the Gulf Coast? And who shares the blame with BP? How about people who drive cars much larger than they need? How about NASCAR, which burns oil for the amusement of spectators? How about well-to-do environmental activists like myself and Al Gore? We've spent our whole careers jetting around the globe for business and pleasure.
I'm not saying any of these activities should be banned. But we do have to switch to cleaner, safer alternative fuels as swiftly as possible. And that will never happen until we start to pay something closer to the true costs that carbon-based fuels impose on our society and our planet. Pelosi would agree with that goal in moments when she is not scapegoating BP. Whether these payments come in the form of a stiff carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, which would also spur conservation, is for Pelosi and her do-nothing-while-the-Earth-burns colleagues in Congress to decide.
Until then, let's not kid ourselves. We are all responsible for the Gulf tragedy. We should all pay.