Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Power of a Photograph...

Photography is such a powerful medium. I ran across this article on 30 Photos That Changed The World. All of the pictures are emotionally powerful, especially the 1863 Mathew Brady shot of Civil War dead at Gettysburg. Most of the photos feature people, as well they should, but three stood out for their geological content: the view of the Earth rising over the moon, the shot of Buzz Aldrin walking (dancing?) on the Moon, and Ansel Adam's panorama of the Grand Tetons.

So many things happened in the late 1960's and early 1970's when I was leaving childhood. It was a scary time in many ways, and exhilarating. We worried about life being obliterated by mushroom clouds, but were coming to the realization that we could clean up some of the mess we had made of things. There was a war that was claiming the lives of friends and family, but we were learning that equality of all people was a possibility (even though we still single out groups in our society; it's a long road...). Seeing the Earth for the first time from space, though, had a huge impact on my personal life.

Another event of those years was the 1969 oil spill at Santa Barbara. The disaster was one of the catalysts for the first Earth Day, and led to a moratorium on new oil drilling off the coast of California that has continued for four decades. There are many issues, and it is unfortunate that opponents to the moratorium can say little more than "drill, baby, drill" as if sucking out every last bit of our remaining petroleum would make us somehow more energy independent (the reserves in the U.S. would last us not even a decade if we stopped importing oil today).

Of course, one of the arguments in support of offshore drilling is that with forty years of experience, the process is perfectly safe. It makes the events of the last few weeks all the more heartbreaking. There is an arrogance that accompanies a dependence on a particular technology. We see it with nuclear power as well. When they go wrong, what happens next? We made a choice in the 1980's to pretend that oil would last forever, and the U.S. made no serious efforts for two decades to increase mileage standards or build alternate forms of transportation. So we are forced to import even more oil, or drill for oil in ever more dangerous and unstable environments.

What is the power of a picture?
I really wonder if the "drill, baby, drill" crowd has any sense of introspection at all. Did any of them stop for a minute and wonder if this really the best way forward, before calling for increased drilling? Does an image like this carry the power to overcome apathy and willful ignorance about our vulnerability to energy disruptions? We are running out of time and choices.

Update: Devilstower has some similar sentiments...

Update #2: Famed Oceanographer and Marine Fisheries expert Rush Limbaugh checks in about the oil slick threatening the southern states: ""The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there. It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." He also is pretty sure environmentalists blew up the oil rig.

Update #3: On the other hand, here is what a real petroleum geologist has to say, Rachel at 4 1/2 billion years of wonder (thanks to Jules and Rachel for their comments!).
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