Let's face it. We are addicted to oil. And by we, I mean the entire developed and developing world. Energy is at the core of economics. You cannot mine, make, move, or grow anything without it.
And what we demand most of all is oil. As we all know too well, the acquisition and use of oil is at the heart of a host of problems: global warming, pollution, political risk, and instability among some of the major producers, to name a few.
We've been aware of this for a long time. Earth Day came to be in part due to the blowout of an oil platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. In 1973, OPEC and allied oil producers in the Middle East showed how quickly they could derail international economies by withholding supplies. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 demonstrated the damage crude oil can do to the environment. And now we have the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil into the sea each day.
Will this latest disaster spur further efforts to wean the world off petroleum and toward the development of new sources of energy? History suggests not.
"We are absolutely addicted and we have no methadone. All we have is the hard stuff," Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, told the Associated Press. "The reality is we're on it, this incident has happened and what we have to do is figure out how we can move forward."
Early on, we heard calls for at least a moratorium on drilling for oil in the Gulf. But as Lisa Margonelli, the director of the New America Foundation's energy initiative and the author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, wrote in a fine op-ed piece in The New York Times, that would not address the core issue. "All oil comes from someone's backyard, and when we don't reduce the amount of oil we consume, and refuse to drill at home, we end up getting people to drill for us in Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria—places without America's strong environmental safeguards or the resources to enforce them," she wrote.
The issue is far bigger than what supply chain managers can address, but assuredly, those involved in moving goods as shippers or carriers must be part of the solution. Efforts like the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay program, the increasing attention to energy consumption in distribution network and facility design, and the strong prospects for rail intermodal linehauls all indicate that growing numbers of supply chain professionals are on board. We are a long way from curing this addiction, but we have taken the first step of admitting it.