How likely is an oil spill?

October 23rd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New spill models have depicted the dramatic impact deep-sea blowouts would have on New Zealand, spreading across our most important fishing ground and hitting Auckland’s iconic west coast beaches.

The report, commissioned by and produced by data science agency Dumpark, sought to gauge the blow-out effects of two planned deep-sea drilling locations off the North Island’s west coast and the South Island’s east coast.

But an industry spokesperson last night slammed the study as inaccurate, “fear-mongering” and “science fiction”, while Government officials also described such a large-scale spill as unlikely.

This got me thinking. How likely is a large spill? Is it 5%? 1%? Less than 1%?

The Deepwater spill of course is the worst case example. But how likely is such a major spill. I found out that there are in fact over 4,000 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. And Greenpeace is freaking out over one proposed exploration by Andarko.

One site gives some stats:

 Improvements in technology and better government oversight have made drilling inherently safe. In fact, since 1975, offshore drilling has had a 99.999 percent safety record [source: EIA]. The amount spilled has decreased from 3.6 million barrels in the 1970s to less than 500,000 in the ’90s. Believe it or not, more oil actually spills into U.S. waters from natural sources and municipal and industrial waste than it does than from offshore oil and gas drilling. As far as the toxic chemicals are concerned, specialists say most of them are at insignificant levels since discharges are regulated by state and federal laws. The mercury released, for example, isn’t enough to be absorbed by fish [source: Jervis].

So if I recall $2.2 billion is being spent in NZ on exploration. Do we want to turn that down for worry about the 0.001%?

Surely the debate should be about do we have the right risk management framework in place, not about trying to ban an entire industry.

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52 Responses to “How likely is an oil spill?”

  1. Pete George (21,806 comments) says:

    “How likely is an oil spill?”

    Not very if they are only extracting gas, which is said to be what they are most likely to get off the South Island coast.

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  2. Elaycee (4,067 comments) says:

    DPF:

    Surely the debate should be about do we have the right risk management framework in place, not about trying to ban an entire industry.

    For rational people – of course.

    But in the case of the Gweens, this report by their colleagues at Gweenpeace signals another round of their orchestrated campaign predicting environmental Armageddon. 8O

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  3. Paulus (2,296 comments) says:

    I suspect this biased report is only the first such scare tactics organised by the New Zealand Greenpeace Party to try and influence votes in the 2014 election.

    We will see more as more and more left wing voters are encouraged by this sort of crap.
    We are a nation of suckers for a hard luck story.
    Too many people with too much unproductive time on their hands, unlike many other countries.

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  4. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    Most oil spills cause very little long term damage. Oil is a natural organic product quickly broken down by natural processes. Water quality in the Gulf spill quickly returned to pre spill levels, much to the horror of environmentalists and corrupt lawyers and fraudsters trying to cash in on the event.

    A few oil covered seagulls make for dramatic pictures on the telly, but are nothing compared to the millions of birds hacked to death by windfarms, which keep up the slaughter day after day.

    But ofcourse opposition to oil being harvested has nothing at all to do with the environment. It is about dismanteling modern industrial society, built by white people.

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  5. Nigel Kearney (747 comments) says:

    Of course this is not targeted at rational people. That’s why they mention only the worst case scenario, and no discussion of probabilities and certainly not benefits. Only uneducated people, newspaper editors, and John Campbell will be taken in.

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  6. BeeJay (65 comments) says:

    If the Greens had their way we wouldn’t be cutting trees, letting cows shit in paddocks, have cars using petroleum products, mining anything that comes to mind, certainly not exploring for oil or gas never mind whether it is under sea or underground. And then? Build communes to accommodate the unemployed, let them grow their own veges, become vegeterians? At last, we would have a country full of green people without jobs, being taken care of by the Green Australian wanker and his bunch of loonies! Will common sense prevail? I certainly hope so!

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  7. edhunter (434 comments) says:

    Pretty much like commissioning a survey when you tell the surveyor the results you want to manufacture.

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  8. alloytoo (337 comments) says:

    Well they they may fool Campbell, but Peter Williams told them straight off the bat that they were scaremongering. (Breakfast this morning)

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  9. edhunter (434 comments) says:

    Back in the 70′s & 80′s when GP were saving Whales & protesting nuclear testing were they hated as much as they now by ‘right’ thinking people? I only ask because I wonder if it’s GP who’ve changed or us.
    My perception is that GP have become one of the things they hate a huge multinational faceless conglomerate answerable to no one.

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  10. dime (8,752 comments) says:

    ed – GP started out as harmless hippies. now they are what you describe.

    even their founder bailed on them.

    same as amnesty international – full of shit but love the perks

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  11. Auberon (816 comments) says:

    Answerable to no one but the Russian police edhunter.

    Hahahahahahaahahaha!

    It’ll be years before they get out – and fair enough too!

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  12. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    dime, you are lucky my cuzzies don’t take any shit from the green communists and pump all that oil out of the sandpit. ;)

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  13. MikeG (359 comments) says:

    “do we have the right risk management framework in place?”
    Those questions are being asked, but Simon Bridges just says “trust me”. And a lot of people don’t trust him.

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  14. RichardX (290 comments) says:

    edhunter (248) Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 1:38 pm
    Back in the 70′s & 80′s when GP were saving Whales & protesting nuclear testing were they hated as much as they now by ‘right’ thinking people? I only ask because I wonder if it’s GP who’ve changed or us.
    My perception is that GP have become one of the things they hate a huge multinational faceless conglomerate answerable to no one.

    Good point Ed
    I think the Rainbow Warrior gave GP a huge following in NZ
    I’m not entirely convinced it was ever justified and I would not be surprised if to learn it has been decreasing ever since

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  15. scrubone (2,971 comments) says:

    Someone on Morning Report actually pointed out that many NZ wells actually don’t have pressure – in fact the oil (or gas?) has to be pumped out.

    Were that the case, there’s no problem in the first place.

    Oh, and never mind that the problem with the Gulf Spill was made worse by the American’s failure to quickly take up offers of help (specifically, Dutch cleanup ships) which had potential to cleanup the oil as fast as it was coming out.

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  16. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    FFS – Why are “Auckland’s iconic west coast beaches” even worthy of a mention here?

    1) The weekend activities of a few surfers and swimmers are economically worthless. WORTHLESS. Like objecting to a new Hydro power scheme because a few kayakers and a few salmon fishermen will have to find somewhere new to do their worthless hobby fun.

    2) From what I remember of my time in Auckland, there were people who regularly went out to Piha for a swim, and plenty of people who didn’t give a shit and never went there. To claim they are “iconic” is therefore a bit of a stretch IMHO.

    3) Does anyone remember how Papamoa was going to be “unusable for years” after the Rena? YEARS! What happened to that huh?

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  17. scrubone (2,971 comments) says:

    The funny thing about the South Island map is that it actually shows the oil moving out to see, not onto the beaches.

    Also, imagine the lives that would be saved if those deadly West Auckland beaches were taken out of action for a while!

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  18. All_on_Red (941 comments) says:

    Want some fun? Go down to Britomart. The tossers are always there bludging for money. The other day they had a group wearing freshly made red tee shirts saying “Save the Arctic 30″.
    The lady was most surprised to be told that I hope they get 5 years!
    So go and heckle them . They don’t expect it either.

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  19. dime (8,752 comments) says:

    “The weekend activities of a few surfers and swimmers are economically worthless”

    Your journey to the dark side is complete!

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  20. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    RRM, it has long been known that clean up efforts often do more harm than good. However, they do it anyway in order to show that they are “doing something” about the mess.

    Almost all you read in the msm about oil spills is nonsense. Long on emotion and short on facts.

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  21. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    If, as they contend, the risk of a catastrophic oil spill is very small, then we should ratchet up the maximum level of recompense for any such corporation perpetrating such a catastrophe to $10 billion, rather than the paltry $10 million fine they will face under the current regime.

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  22. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    Yoza, so you reckon they should put the price of oil up (the price of everything) ?

    You need to pull your head out of your arse are realise that when you increase the costs on “BIG BUSINESS” they simply pass it on to the consumer, while maintaining (or increasing) profit.

    [PS. communism does not work.]

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  23. davidp (3,320 comments) says:

    RRM>Does anyone remember how Papamoa was going to be “unusable for years” after the Rena? YEARS! What happened to that huh?

    Didn’t Gareth Hughes predict the beach would be unusable for a generation? Of course it was open and in use a week later, which meant it was more accurate than most Green Party predictions of doom.

    Economic activity the Greens are opposed to:

    1. Any oil or natural gas exploration or production. Especially if fracking is involved.
    2. Any mining. Although they want to guarantee the jobs of miners.
    3. Any dairy farming.
    4. Any farming with generically engineered seeds.
    5. Any type of electricity generation except wind. And maybe geothermal, although geothermal involves injecting fluids underground and that might be considered to be fracking.
    6. Any transmission of electricity using high voltage links.
    7. Any use of mobile phones or wireless internet, unless the system doesn’t radiate electromagnetic energy.
    8. Any trade with China.
    9. Any internet industry using hardware made in China.

    Basically, unless you work for the Green Party they consider your job to be sinful by default. And like the Spanish Inquisition, sin has to be eliminated by all necessary means.

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  24. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    Yoza – is that $10B based on a rational assessment of what the clean-up would cost? Or purely because ‘big oil’ deserves to be punished?

    I would make the drilling company liable for any & all clean-up costs incurred by public agancies.

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  25. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    The real question is why Greenpeace & Yoza encourage oil exploration by using the products of the oil industry every single day of their lives ?

    If it was not for pricks like Yoza demanding oil products, there would be no problem !

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  26. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    I would make the drilling company liable for any & all clean-up costs incurred by public agancies.

    And do you think it would also be reasonable for that same drilling company to recompense any local businesses (fisheries, tourism operators, etc) for the losses they incur as a consequence of such a disaster.

    Yoza – is that $10B based on a rational assessment of what the clean-up would cost?

    So far, from memory, Anadarko and BP have contributed $4 billion each for the part they played in the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

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  27. David Garrett (5,126 comments) says:

    davidp: an uptick for you my boy…

    but surprisingly, I find myself – once again, and far from comfortably – with Yoza on the fines issue…Despite what everyone has said about the far exaggerated effects of an offshore blowout, we certainly dont need one, and a $10 million fine is indeed derisory when an offshore dry hole (much cheaper than one which needs to be tested extensively) costs 5 or 10 times that….

    but forget about fines… a government bond for the cost of the well until it is plugged and abandoned (or tested) would be a much more effective incentive.

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  28. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    Kea (8,456) Says:
    October 23rd, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    The real question is why Greenpeace & Yoza encourage oil exploration by using the products of the oil industry every single day of their lives ?

    If it was not for pricks like Yoza demanding oil products, there would be no problem !

    Well done, Kea! Once again you are the proud perpetrator of stupidest argument ever.

    When the Brits invaded New Zealand the Maori didn’t say, “We shouldn’t use muskets, they are the products of our enemies.” Similarly, those of us who question the legitimacy of private corporations to loot this planet’s finite resources, primarily to enrich the shareholders of those corporations, will continue to use any form of technology to further our cause. There is no alternative, if you live in a ‘capitalist’ society dependent on petroleum products you use whatever resources are at hand.

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  29. Pete George (21,806 comments) says:

    Deep sea oil spill projections – experts respond

    We asked experts: does the report describe a realistic deep sea well failure scenario? How credible are the underlying assumptions? Have the modelling tools been appropriately applied?

    Some interesting comments. Obviously there’s a chance we could have a major disaster and it’s worth having the issue raised and discussed.

    Dr Ross Vennell, Physical oceanographer, Department of Marine Science, University of Otago:

    “We obviously don’t know the exact chances of a oil rig disaster followed by a valve failure in NZ waters, nor the likely volume of spilt oil from the two NZ sites.”

    “However, the predictions appear to be a reasonable first attempt to estimate the extent of a worst case spill from deepwater sites in NZ. It would require more work to clarify and expand on these predictions.”

    Prof Rosalind Archer, Head of Department of Engineering Science, University of Auckland:

    “In the scenarios used to model a potential blowout, the assumptions made about the flow rate that could occur from the well are very significant.

    “My assessment is that this report is likely to overstate the impact of a possible blow out in New Zealand waters.”

    Dr Willem de Lange, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Waikato:

    The study is a reasonable and credible assessment of the potential impacts of the scenarios modelled. There is, however, no risk analysis of the likelihood of these events occurring, and, hence, the risks are not portrayed.

    (Summaries)

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  30. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    Yoza, what a load of waffle. They harvest organic fuels (like oil) because people like you demand it. But at least you have admitted the real issue is with “capitalism” and not oil.

    David Garrett, how is the glorious potato harvest in your sector this season comrade ? ;)

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  31. tvb (3,939 comments) says:

    There are big risks in NOT taking advantage of economic opportunities. Someone has to create the wealth that produces the income that can be taxed. There are risks crossing the road. There are risks in riding a bike for recreation on the open highway. We are a small narrowly based highly indebted economy. We simply cannot afford to ignore economic opportunity. But the environmentalists say let us ban this or that. Soon we end up as a very poor country afraid to do anything but denying the big risks in doing nothing.

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  32. alex Masterley (1,438 comments) says:

    Instead of warning us, in the worst possible terms, about the peril of the month, in this case deep sea drilling which quite frankly is rather tiresome, it would be nice of greenpeace et al if they did something constructive and or positive like, for example, working on a means of cleaning up the north pacific gyre.

    For those that don’t know it is an area of the north pacific that is accumulating in vast quantities flotsam and jetsam comprising rubbish from the fukushima tsunami and general plastic and other rubbish. It is mentioned in wikipaedia.

    My sailing mates have said it is astonishing how much rubbish has accumulated.

    Cleaning that up would be a true achievement.

    Sorry rant over.

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  33. Spam (586 comments) says:

    Typical light-weight analysis, focusing only on the consequence and ignoring probability. Risk, as people who actually know what they are talking about, is consequence x probability of that consequence.

    If activities were all banned because of the potential consequences, not the true risk, then we better all stay at home wrapped in cotton wool.

    Oops – no. Scratch that. The roof of our house might collapse and crush us. The cotton wool might smother us. Guess we’re fucked then.

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  34. Pete George (21,806 comments) says:

    But aM, that would be addressing an actual problem rather than campaigning against something that may never happen.

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  35. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    alex Masterley, are you refering to the bullshit fable/bald faced lie of the “Garbage Island” that has never ever been photographed and is invisible to satelite ?

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  36. Redbaiter (6,478 comments) says:

    “but surprisingly, I find myself – once again, and far from comfortably – with Yoza on the fines issue…”

    Garret showing he’s a damn socialist at heart again.

    Offer to join EEERP is withdrawn.

    Just another fake prepared to suck up to the left at the drop of a hat.

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  37. Ross12 (927 comments) says:

    How come if this is an expert report with fancy models they overlook the basic geology referred to in Scrubone’s @ 2.03 comment –that is, around NZ you are looking at low pressure systems –not the very high pressure systems seen in the Gulf area.
    What he heard was backed up by another “report” earlier today.

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  38. DJP6-25 (1,229 comments) says:

    About as likely as a socialist, or enviromental wacko telling the truth.

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  39. Azeraph (598 comments) says:

    Oil tanker sized catamarans to pull loose nets behind them trawling for rubbish to a spot in the north pacific where we could process the crap out of there. How are they powered, they are massive versions of the emirates cat.

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  40. David Garrett (5,126 comments) says:

    Crikey! I agree with our resident communist that possible $10 million fine is indeed nothing more than a potential “cost of doing business” when you are spending $100 million on an oil well, and I am fellow apparatchik!

    And I am deeply deeply disheartened Red, that I am no longer a potential candidate for EEERP…Did all 21 members agree with this decision, or did you make it unassisted?

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  41. OneTrack (1,961 comments) says:

    Yoza – “There is no alternative, if you live in a ‘capitalist’ society dependent on petroleum products you use whatever resources are at hand.”

    You mean no need to use public transport or cycle or walk? We should just use whatever resources are at hand. I guess that explains Gareth Hughes modus operandi – his “resources” include a taxpayer funded Koru club membership. So he flys as much as possible to maximise the value of his membership instead of actually working. And it’s all ok because we aren’t a communist nirvana yet?

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  42. itstricky (1,139 comments) says:

    The title of this post ‘how likely’ is a bit of a pathetic acratch of the surface. Probably deliberately. Let us do some risk analysis with a simple well used equation – risk = likelihood x impact

    Sure it is not very likely that there will be a blow but if there is it will be astronomical. A lot more than a measly $10mil. Will fix. Yoza is correct – if it goes ahead this must be reviewed.

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  43. Redbaiter (6,478 comments) says:

    Executive decision Dave.

    There were some other issues that should remain unspoken of. (hint- weeping in public)

    You gotta be tough to be in the EEERP.

    BTW, a $10 million bond is another upfront cost. Not all explorers are cashed up multi-nationals.

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  44. itstricky (1,139 comments) says:

    Onetrack – so you hack someone down for having an ideal and trying to make a difference regardless of the way in which they must perform their job?

    It is easy to be the critic my friend. Wake me up when you know what your contribution to the world your children will live in. Then with that brillant idea that you have in hand you’ll have lots of legitimate points to debate the usefulness of other’s contributions.

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  45. Manolo (12,624 comments) says:

    Greenpeace, the eco-terrorist branch of the Green Party strikes again.
    Luddites and anti-progress to the fullest possible extent.

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  46. David Garrett (5,126 comments) says:

    Red: I had forgotten you only had land rig experience…anyone exploring offshore – especially way down here – is “cashed up” enough to buy the entire country…

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  47. Johnboy (13,386 comments) says:

    As long as all the Green MP’s ride their horse’s/oxen/bicycles to get to parliament instead of catching a plane/train/cab I think they have a right to condemn the filthy polluting oil barons.

    That dosen’t absolve them from disposing of their transport animals shit in a ecologically sound manner of course! :)

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  48. Engineer (63 comments) says:

    The fact is if we want to enjoy super duper cancer drugs like herceptin etc, and a first world health system, and to be able to enjoy iphones etc we gotta pay for it somehow.

    Technology is a good thing. Technological civilization is superior to primitive society, and people live longer more healthy lives.

    The Greens want their cake and eat it too. I’d bet they’d be bitching if they got sick and the country said we haven’t got the money to pay for your operation, or maybe we can only pay for an operation with a level of sophistication like something out of the Crimean war.

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  49. maxwell (33 comments) says:

    Greenpeace,

    in the words of their co founder Patrick Moore,

    “What happened is environmental extremism. They’ve abandoned science and logic altogether.” Their message today is “anti:” anti-human, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-trade and globalization, anti-business and capitalism, and ultimately, anti-civilization.”

    I was a paying member for many years until the mid 90′s – but I was so much younger then and Greenpeace was the real deal – or so I thought. I’m still a not so closet tree hugger though.

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  50. Alan Wilkinson (1,798 comments) says:

    Obviously there is a risk that a jumbo can crash killing everyone aboard so we should never fly.

    The Left are moronic scientific and economic illiterates beyond belief.

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  51. Engineer (63 comments) says:

    The Left are moronic scientific and economic illiterates beyond belief.

    There was the old left that struggled for workers rights, a fair wage, and supported the national liberation struggles in the third world. By and large the old left did not have a problem with industrialisation. They were not post-modernists.

    The Green’s are self-indulgent spoilt middle class brats, who want all the benefits and enjoyment of modern society – but only for themselves. To them those primitive rain-forest tribes should continue to be primitive, and not have things such as TVs, cameras, and antibiotics.

    Instead of being into sensible sustainability (for the benefit of humanity), they want to protect parts of nature simply for being parts of nature. That is they are pagans.

    Nature only has worth so far as it benefits man. It has no inherent value beyond that.
    There is no such thing, say, as a beautiful sunset. A beautiful sunset is only beautiful because man is there to enjoy it. To a dung beetle it probably means nothing.

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  52. itstricky (1,139 comments) says:

    With a name like engineer you were clearly awake in physics class. But also clearly fast asleep in biology. There are these things. They call them ecosystems.

    You may find that although dung bettles have no value if something wipes out every little dung beetle enjoying a sunset that all of a sudden you world supplies of chocolate bars plummet. Or something. No one can determine what is useful to man and what is not. Personally I think that thinking about those things is quite a selfless approach to life. What I find self-indulgent is the umpteeth whinning conservative complaining about how much tax THEY have paid in their lives and how much the world owes THEM a living rather than the other way around. Consider the impact of a blow out on the ocean ecosystem. And the fishing ecosystem (nee industry). And the tourism ecosystem (nee industry)

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