Is is too big to fail? Andrew Lakoff on our energy production system

Andrew LakoffIn a piece for the Huffington Post, Andrew Lakoff, editor of the just published Disaster and the Politics of Intervention, examines what if anything can be learned from the debate over financial reform as attention turns to the regulatory reforms necessary to avoid the next environmental catastrophe.

Lakoff argues that similar to the debate regarding financial reform, it is necessary to look beyond individual culprits responsible for the Gulf spill (BP, Halliburton, etc.) and look to the systemic inadequacies in our environmental regulation and energy policies. Lakoff suggests that the disaster in the Gulf reflects the problem of off-shore drilling which is a “systemic risk” that affects local ecosystems and local economies.

Lakoff concludes his essay writing:

Our response to disasters is too often limited in extent and duration. Typically the onset of an emergency situation makes it possible to galvanize resources and provide immediate relief, whereas earlier proposals for preventive measures could not muster support. During a disaster, there is a search for the proximate cause in order to attribute blame and seek redress, while the deeper structural causes remain unaddressed. And then, with time, the sense of urgency to deal with the crisis fades, and it becomes more difficult to implement reforms that would reduce vulnerability to future catastrophe.

As we continue to watch the disaster in the Gulf unfold, and seek out its culprits, it is worth attending to the bigger questions the event provokes about the vulnerabilities of our ecosystems, and about the systemic risks posed by our methods of energy production. The energy bill Congress is about to debate is a perfect opportunity to address these risks and vulnerabilities. Building a concern with mitigating systemic risk into the energy bill means investing in resilient forms of energy production, and avoiding sources of energy – such as offshore drilling and nuclear power – that may seem viable in the short term but that threaten environmental catastrophe in the long term.

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