The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

BP oil spill receives new perspective

By Joshua Knopp/entertainment editor

Consumers must control themselves or catastrophes such as the Gulf oil leak will become the norm, a UNT philosophy teacher said.

Adam Briggle, a native of Colorado, has a bachelor’s in biology from St. John’s University and a doctorate in environmental studies from the University of Colorado. He spoke to more than 100 students Sept. 29 on NE Campus on the importance of consumption control in relation to the oil leak.

“In a way, we are responsible — granted, in an indirect way,” he said.

Briggle opened his seminar with a thought experiment. He asked if one person owned the defective oil well but didn’t have any hand in the design, is that person at fault for the well’s failure?

In one sense, Briggle said no, the owner isn’t. He didn’t design the parts that failed. But in another sense, yes, the owner is responsible because he put the people who did make the defective pieces in charge by becoming reliant on them for oil.

This translated directly over to the consumers. Though they don’t directly own the well, it exists to serve consumers.

“You, as a consumer, bear no moral responsibility when you’re not operating behind the scenes,” Briggle said. For clarity of consequence, however, he added, “Accidents are normal in high-tech systems.”

Briggle spoke of a different world that makes this world possible.

“Our world consists of a foreground and a background,” he said.

The foreground is what people use in their daily lives — the water that comes from the tap, the lights that come on at the flick of a switch and the gas that comes out of the pump. The background is all the systems that provide what is in the foreground — water treatment plants, power plants and oil rigs.

Briggle talked about how these systems have become more complex and interdependent, and as that has happened, humans as a species have become more dependent on them.

“We respond to complexity by making things more complex and dependent, and we respond to dependence with more dependence.”

To clarify for the audience, he used the film WALL-E as an example. In the film, humans live on a giant spaceship and have everything provided for them. Their “foreground” has no “background.”

But when the ship loses power, the humans on it are rendered helpless. They had become so dependent on their hoverchairs that their legs wouldn’t support them.

Briggle called this the ideal vision of the promise of technology. Amazing things can be afforded, but if humans become dependent upon them, they will be helpless when the technology eventually fails.

When people ask who is responsible for these systems failing in real life, they tend to “foreground the background players.”

Briggle said that while the background people were physically responsible, the consumers in the foreground were morally responsible because their lifestyles drove the rig to exist in the first place.

The solution he suggested was to reduce complexities and lessen dependence on these systems.

“It is time to turn the debate from hubristic technological fixes to relinquishment and modification,” Briggle said.

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