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'Five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico'

That’s the rate that people are releasing carbon to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation today. I know, it’s apples and oranges; carbon in the form of oil is more immediately toxic to the environment than it is as CO2 (although CO2 may be more damaging on geologic time scales). But think of it — five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once, each releasing 40,000 barrels a day, every day for decades and centuries on end. We are burning a lot of carbon!

That's David Archer via Austin Frakt, who notes that the statistic would work nicely if Barack Obama wanted to give a more aggressive speech on the need to reduce carbon emissions.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 16, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Accurate descriptions of the status quo give a necessary bit of perspective on the real-but-greatly-exaggerated problems with nuclear power, eh?

Posted by: WmOckham | June 16, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

One can't acknowledge that it's a comparison of apples and oranges and then go on to do it anyways. Spilled oil affects people and the environment in completely different ways than CO2 emissions - it's not just a question of immediate toxicity vs long-term toxicity. If we had some sort of metric that represents the health of the environment then maybe you could start to compare them - does such a metric exist? I understand the desire to try to frame the invisible CO2 catastrophe in terms of the very visible oil spill, but I think this particular comparison ends up doing a disservice to both problems.

Posted by: willholm | June 16, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Just for curiosity, how much longer will the planet "survive" if, for example, the Rachael Maddow Show ceased to air?

I'd assume that energy is consumed -- and carbon is released -- by both the production and consumption of the show and the quantities are determinable. A similar calculation might determine the extension of planetary "survival" due to cessation of air conditioning in the Washington Post offices, etc.

Listing doable things -- such as terminating a television show and cutting off air conditioning -- is helpful: those that can will do what's necessary to "save" the planet... and a carbon tax becomes unnecessary. Let's see who REALLY wants to "save" the planet!!

Posted by: rmgregory | June 16, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"the statistic would work nicely if Barack Obama wanted to give a more aggressive speech on the need to reduce carbon emissions"

I'm not so sure. It sounds kind of counter-intuitive, to me. How in the world can what we do everyday, and have been doing since well before I was born in some or fashion, be the equivalent of 5000 Gulf of Mexico spills, only one which is apparently a never-ending national disaster?

It may be a rational and justifiable fact, but it is not one that has the sort of intuitive resonance that it would "work nicely" to make a more aggressive speech on the need to reduce carbon emissions.

It sounds like: "Hey, you know when you and your family have a vacation? Or when you drop your kids off to school and go to your job? That's the equivalent of an oil rig explosion and 10,000 gallons of crude oil destroying the environment and killing cute animals and ruining coastal industries for years into the future. That's what you're doing, you b*stard, just by living your life and taking care of your family."

I think Obama was wise to avoid the sort of comparison that would come across as, at best, hyperbole, and, at worst, equating living your life as the equivalent of a negligence and corruption created environmental disaster. "You people are the problem! You're worse than BP! Now, support me in this legislation."

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 16, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"I know, it’s apples and oranges .... But think of it"

That is the most inane thing I've read in weeks.

Posted by: ostap666 | June 16, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, and as carbon-based life forms how much many oil spills is the mass of humanity equivalent to? What about all of the plant life on the planet (also carbon-based)?

The comparison given is pretty meaningless, as it's the physical and chemical properties of the carbon containing compounds which determine how dangerous they are. For example, diamonds (pure carbon) aren't an atmospheric hazard, whereas coal is.

Posted by: Beagle1 | June 16, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

If you google "sixth extinction" you will discover that we are in the midst of one of the greatest, scientifically documentable, mass extinctions in history, and that it is because of human impact, and that the damage is plainly visible for those who take the time to educate themselves to the issues. The gulf gusher is just one more chapter in the saga of the sixth extinction; acidification of the oceans is another, over-fishing another, climate change another, etc..

We merely think the gulf gusher is causing more acute damage than normal because we see photos of oil covered pelicans, etc..

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 16, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

True believers like David Archer and 'Lomillialor' are to climate change as right-wing fundamentalistsare to hristianity.

Posted by: gramps2 | June 16, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

True believers like David Archer and 'Lomillialor' are to climate change as right-wing fundamentalists are to Christianity.

Posted by: gramps2 | June 16, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I don't care about the NBA Finals, so I think we should cancel them to save carbon. Also, I don't care about Tea Party rallies, so we should cancel them to save carbon. World saved.

Individual action on climate change is laudable but no more effective than individual charity is at eliminating disease. It's great and wonderful to run in that anti-breast cancer marathon, but it's going to take concerted efforts between the private sector and government agencies to combat big problems. We're simply passed the point where most of our problems are going to be addressed by a really smart guy in his garage.

Similarly, climate change isn't going to be addressed by one company turning off its air conditioning, or shaming political opponents for living in the modern world. Carbon is an unpriced externality in our economy. It's being produced in a million different ways, they're all free right now, and the affects are born by everyone. Ezra should be able to go to China if he wants, or if the Post wants him to go. I should be able to run my air conditioner if I want. Al Gore should be able to have his big house. We should be able to do all the things that we want to do as long as we're paying for it, including the carbon footprint we're creating.

Maybe it's worth paying more for a plane ticket to still go to China. Maybe it's not and Ezra spends a few weeks Skyping with Chinese people and reading a lot of books/periodicals. Maybe it's worth it for me to be cold, or maybe I sleep downstairs for the summer. Maybe it's worth extra to have a huge house, or maybe it's worth it to buy solar panels and wind turbines for your property to offset your carbon footprint. Or maybe you just move into a smaller house.

People should have the same choices they've always had, but they shouldn't get a free ride on the the negative costs that they're inflicting on the world. If they choose to do those things despite the extra cost, we can take the revenue and invest it in ways that offset that carbon production.

Posted by: MosBen | June 16, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

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