Monday, 14 March 2011

The Impact of the BP Oil Spill and What We Can Do About It

By Bill Weissbard

The British Petroleum oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster by any standard. We are all well aware of the potential damage to the eco-system of the gulf and more critically, the risk to the Mississippi Delta estuaries. Daily news reports of volunteers washing oil from a birds feathers are heart rendering. Reports have been written on the economic impact of this oil spill on the Gulf tourism industry and on the shrimp fishing industry. In this article, we focus on the impact the loss of even one seasons loss of the Gulf shrimp harvest will have on our food supply.
Fact: The Gulf shrimp fishing industry's maximum sustainable annual yield estimates vary from a high value of 200 million pounds to a more conservative value of 86 million pounds (source: NOAA). One pound of shrimp contains approximately 480 consumable calories. The estimated caloric yield of one seasons shrimp crop, using the conservative NOAA number is therefore 41 billion calories.
Consider that the typical American consumes over 2400 calories per day on average throughout his or her lifetime (more as child, less as we age). Assuming a typical lifespan of 70 years times 365 day times 1500+ calories, the typical American will consume, on average, 60 million calories in their lifetime. Admittedly, a persons caloric consumption is from a variety of sources and man cannot live on shrimp alone. Although shrimp consumption is spread over many people, it is useful to calculate how many equivalent lifespans one years Gulf shrimp harvest could support and what the impact will be if only one seasons shrimp harvest is lost or inedible due to toxicity.
To get the number of equivalent people fed by this single food source, divide 40 billion calories per annual harvest by 60 million calories per human life consumption. That calculates to greater than 600 equivalent human lifetime food supplies. In a more immediate sense, that means that 42,000 people would go hungry in a year, for every year that the Gulf shrimp cannot be eaten.
As the demands of the world population approach the available world food supply and the impacts of global climate change on crop prediction begin to be felt, unnecessary loss of existing food sources will become more critical and less tolerable!
So what can we do about it?
One small part of the answer is to reduce our dependence on oil. Not just foreign oil because of the political ramifications but also domestic oil production because of the environmental impact i.e. oil spills, eco-system and food supply.
Much has been written on the subject of what we can do with current technology, the trend to alternative electric and Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, for example will certainly make a big impact but it will take a generation till these alternatives have replaced the existing population of gas powered cars and trucks. Solar and wind fields are also in the plan but just now being seeded across America.
As individuals level we can make small changes to reduce our oil consumption; by insulating our homes, converting to CFL light bulbs and even installing solar panels. By "Living Green" we can and must make our own contributions!
Bill Weissbard, has been a long time advocate of LivingGreen and has contributed to the development of a number of NASA atmospheric monitoring instruments. Bill is Director of "From This Century" a retail website dedicated to providing the best in Eco friendly products to the consumer marketplace. Our motto: "From This Century: Searching the World (wide web) for products to help YOU make the world a Greener Place". For more information please visit: