The Story so Far:

                Today’s world is energy obsessed.  Part and parcel with our obsession is the continual chase to secure new sources of fuel for an ever thirsty world.  Recently one such attempt has ended in environmental catastrophe. We can all guess as to what I’m talking about; the failure of BP’s (British Petroleum) off-shore oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. 

                The failure of the Deepwater Horizon has lead to the spilling of massive amounts of oil.  Though not the biggest slick in history, or even of its kind, if the spill is not soon brought under control it could quickly grow into one of the largest environmental disasters in history.  Currently the Deepwater Horizon has an estimated spill rate of 210,000 gallons per day.  This means that during the initial two weeks of this spill alone, approximately 2.9 million gallons of oil have already found their way into the Gulf of Mexico.

                As judged from a historical perspective the Deepwater Horizon spill is still far from the largest.  As Time Magazine reports the largest spill in world history is the result of a similar deep water drilling accident.  Ixtoc I spilled a staggering 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 1979.   By way of comparison what is perhaps the most publicised spill in North America, The Exxon Valdez spilled only a paltry 10.9 million gallons of oil.

                Given BP’s timeline on being able to drill a relief well (with current estimates of 3 months) it would seem inevitable that the Deepwater Horizon spill will soon come to pass the numbers put out by the Exxon Valdez.  However efforts to contain the spill have been meeting with some limited success.  CBC News is reporting the successful installation of a riser system, which is designed to divert much of the spewing oil into a pipe for direct transport to the surface.  This measure has been a moderate success diverting fully 42,000 gallons of oil to barges on the surface, reducing the spill-rate to an estimated 168,000 gallons of oil per day.

                Unfortunately any success that has been made will be overshadowed by the extensive environmental damage that the spill is already beginning to bring into effect. The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) of the U.S. reports that The Exxon Valdez spill affected over 700 miles of Alaskan shoreline and was directly responsible for the deaths of at least 36,000 migratory birds as well as decimating seal breeding habitats.  Though the Exxon Valdez spill was admittedly much larger than the Deepwater Horizon spill there is currently nothing to suggest that this modern spill will not quickly grow to eclipse the former in both magnitude and in the attendant environmental devastation.

                Given the Deepwater Horizon’s spill still has the capacity for its total size to continue growing in scope and the spills location near the, now notorious, loop-current, the amount of U.S. coastline and coastal waters in danger of being contaminated is unprecedented.  Efforts to contain and clean up the spill once the tap has finally been shut off will be both labour intensive and expensive and as such it is unsurprising that people are already demanding that BP get out its chequebook.  In the attempt to cut off the very obvious negative publicity that an environmental disaster such as this is bound to create amongst a now all to environmentally aware public BP has accepted to foot the bill for the all its legal liabilities relating to the fall out of cleanup.    

Ah Yes… The Plus Side:

                Though we are today presented with a horrendous environmental accident the spill itself may represent a chance for the environmental movement to reset itself and get back to its core priority of eliminating pollution.  Until quite recently environmentalists the world over have had their attentions held by the passing fad of climate change.  With the recent allegations surrounding fraud within the global climate-change science community (the scandal, so predictably, monikered as climategate) fresh on many people’s minds, maybe it’s time for the environmental movement to get firmly back to its roots.

                At heart the environmental movement once stood for the reduction and hopeful elimination of pollution.  We have forgotten in all the worries spent about carbon emissions that CO2 is not in itself inherently dangerous nor is it a pollutant; unfortunately the chemical dispersants being used to clean up the very spill that is polluting the Gulf Coast most certainly are.  This spill merely stands in highlight as the most current and publicized of many such chemical spills or hazards to the environment. Be it the thoroughly polluted waters of the Yangtze River in China to the Great Lakes here closer to home industrial contamination of the environment remains the most pressing problem facing the world in the near future.  Climates will change, and no matter the inconvenience such change brings humans will be capable of adapting to it.  However one thing humans can handle no more readily than any other species is a polluted and contaminated environment.

                If the environmental movement is truly serious about tackling threats to the environment then there could be no better new poster child for them than the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  It is pollution that is the number one thing that industry must come to terms with and begin to properly tackle and it’s on that front that the environmentalists must again move their considerable media muscle.  If the movement goes in this direction it is possible that the real problems facing our environment may come to be tackled and that means securing clean water, land, and air for future generations.

Sources:

Time Magazine, May 17th 2010 “The Big Spill”- Bryan Walsh

CBC News,http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/05/17/gulf-of-mexico-0517.html

E.P.A. http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/valdez/02.htm

Advertisements

                 It seems that with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and Euro-zone leaders coming to an agreement on the bailout package, for financially troubled Greece, that perhaps the economic woes that plague Europe may finally be coming under control.  The Associated Press is reporting that the package worth approximately $100 billion (US) will be capable of providing Greece with a 2 year reprieve, with $25.7 billion of the funds becoming immediately accessible with a total of an estimated $51.5 billion in loans to be made available this year.

                The release of the funds is not however without strings attached.  Part and parcel to the agreement is that Greece enact record-setting austerity measures in order to control their government deficit and debt.  The Austerity measures are truly unprecedented with the New York Times Reporting that the budgetary cuts amount to $38 billion over the next two years.  The cuts are coming via a roll back on public sector wages and tighter retirement ages, while an increase in taxes is expected to grant some breathing room to government operating budgets.

                These cuts are already having a wide ranging social and economic impact in Greece.  As the whole-sale rioting across the country in recent days has been sure to demonstrate, the people of Greece are not happy with the solution that has been enacted to solve the crisis, and in some sense perhaps rightly so.  However it was the Greek populace who chose their own leadership, who then in turn dug this hole.  Though the Greek people may be left holding the bag in this case they must admit to some responsibility for the situation.

Greece has fallen into the uniquely undesirable economic situation of having one of the largest public sectors in the first world.  Best estimates as to the actual size of the public sector in Greece vary; with numbers ranging from 30-40% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) it is hard to pin an accurate number down.  Even if we take the IMF’s more conservative projection of 30% that still leaves the Greek government accounting for a huge proportion of the country’s output. In real world numbers Yahoo! News is reporting that the public sector accounts for as much as 1/3 of all employable workers.  From an estimated total workforce of 5 million that’s a staggering 1.7 million workers!  In comparison with other first world nations this number is exceptionally high.  Canada’s public sector only accounts for 20% of the workforce, while leading economies like the U.S., Germany, and Japan have public sectors that operate in the 10% range.

The reason for the Greek populace’s downright aggression over the austerity measures should be readily clear.  Thanks to a ballooning public sector the Greek government is now the key economic driver in the country.  Unfortunately unlike a private sector corporation, that is forced to live within its means or perish, public sector entities like governments have gotten away with years of deficit spending practices amidst continual growth and expansion thanks to the guaranteed market that is the taxpayer. 

Let’s put all of this into perspective. Greece who’s sovereign debt has grown significantly in the past two years, with the debt steadily growing from 63.8% of GDP in 2008 to 72.3% in 2009, has been unable to control public sector spending.  However don’t let these percentage indicators deceive you.  It’s necessary that we keep in mind that the Greek GDP for 2009 was $341 billion making the government debt $246.5 billion for last year alone.  To make matters all the worse for Greece is the fact that the government operating budget was measured at only $108.7 billion in revenues while they carried $145.2 billion in expenditures for 2009; a deficit of $36.5 billion.

Given that the Greek government has committed to an average of $19 billion in spending cuts over the next two years that should place them back onto the plus side of the books and bring an end to deficit spending.  However meeting such targets may provide a very real problem for the Greek people.  The necessary cuts to the public services will result in jobs lost; jobs for which there are no immediate private sector replacement anywhere on the horizon.  A reduction in the Greek public sector to even Canada like levels, moving from 30% to 20%, may not be a realistic target to meet within the next two years.  Greece already has an unemployment level of 9% which is sure to see a drastic increase from any attempts to reduce the size of government.  However as the IMF and E.U. have made clear such attempts will have to be made. 

                The question on everybody’s minds is can the Greek people succeed at, what is admittedly, such a complex and delicate task?  The people of Greece are in a tough predicament and with the globalization of today’s markets there is little for the world to do but attempt to prop them up.  That being said, ultimately, it will be up to the people of Greece who will set the course for their futures.  The answer will reveal itself in the coming months. Until then the world has reluctantly decided to pitch in and provide Greece with a short-term bailout, but it will all amount to nothing if the Greek government cannot bring its house in order.

Your host, the Fro with the Know:

Tim

*note on the edit* Decided to add my sourcing on the numbers for this article as I did so in my follow-up. 

GDP numbers unless otherwise quoted are all courtesy of the CIA World Factbook which may be found online here: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

The numbers in the case of the public services in each country come from their respective statistics/census bureau

Well after many moons absence it seems I now have the time and inclination to get back to this personal pet project of mine; blogging.  The site is now live but you can still expect some tinkering with the look and layout over the next little while well things settle in.  The obvious question for a first time visitor to the site is “just what can I expect from SSOG“?  Well the answer is anything and everything, from art and design, science, to geopolitics.  If it happens to catch my fancy you can expect that I’ll be likely to comment about it.  First on deck is an article on the Greek financial crisis (it’s currently in the process of being fully researched and fact checked but you can expect to see it soon).  Untill that post hits im happy that you dropped on by to share in my little piece of the web.

Your host, the Fro with the Know:

Tim