The small town of Lac-Magentic in the Quebec province of Canada is ablaze over a full day after a driverless train carrying 72 tankers of oil derailed and exploded in the downtown area. At least one casualty has been reported, with police and officials indicating that the death toll will likely continue to rise. The town center was destroyed in the wreck, with several downtown stores and restaurants succumbing to the explosion, according to the town mayor. Oil seeped down drain pipes and came back up under manholes, flaming. The nightmarish scenario is the latest reminder of the economic and social consequences of a fossil fuel based economy.
The explosive power contained within fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas are exactly why we use them to power our buildings and our lives, but that energy comes at a societal cost.
Oil spills are more frequent than people might guess. Just last month, there were three oil spills that went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media. Often spills go completely unnoticed. Often they’re noticed after they’ve been flowing for a month! The damage done to ecosystems and human health is hard to measure.
Cleaning up oil spills is difficult and near impossible at best. After all, what do you do when toxic liquid spills into an environment? The oil companies’ answer is to use a chemical dispersant to break the oil molecules up. But these chemical dispersants are only effective at disippating the appearance of the oil spill, not actually helping to degrade and detoxify the oil, and in fact, the chemical dispersants are toxic in their own right.
This particular spill is catching our attention only because it caught fire and created economic damage as well as taking lives. But with all the long term damage caused by our dependence on fossil fuels, most of the true costs of the industry are completely unknown to us and likely measure many orders of magnitude greater than this explosion or even the BP oil spill, which was seemingly forgotten less than a year after it decimated the entire Gulf region’s economy and ecosystem. We do know that burning fossil fuels is one of the leading causes of global warming. It’s also creating a socioeconomic stratification like the world has never seen, with oil rich countries growing insanely wealthy while the poor and middle classes pay through the nose at the pump. The list goes on…I just hope that with each headline grabbing crash like this one, more people commit to ending the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Photo from MSNBC and the AP