Americans must regret the apparent loss of the 11 oil workers on the rig that exploded and sank 50 miles off the Louisiana coast this week.
To understand what it means for the country, the tragedy must be viewed alongside two other news developments. One was the death in the West Virginia coal fields earlier this month of 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch mine. The other was the decision in March by President Barack Obama to open up new areas of the coastline to offshore drilling, making states from Delaware to Florida potentially vulnerable to the same sort of accident that just occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
What comes next in the destruction of the oil rig is possible environmental impact. The Coast Guard said Friday that no oil appeared to be leaking from under water and that officials were trying to contain what had spilled after the explosion and reduce the threat to wildlife, livelihoods and vegetation on the coastline.
The common element in all three events - two of which have taken human tolls - is America's continued addiction to fossil fuels, which drives the drilling of oil from off the shores of Louisiana, the digging of coal from mines in West Virginia and the decision by Mr. Obama to expand exploration off the nation's fragile coastline.
It is perfectly comprehensible that Mr. Obama and other Americans want to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil. The numbers on the addiction are staggering, both in strategic terms as the nation derives oil from unstable parts of the world and in the continuing price the United States pays in environmental terms - not to mention the occasional loss of life.
The world produces 85 million barrels of oil a day, with the United States consuming 21 million barrels, a quarter of the total even though the U.S. population is less than 5 percent of the world. The United States imports 14 million barrels of its daily consumption, or two-thirds. That leaves 7 million barrels a day obtained from domestic drilling. Even with Mr. Obama's offshore drilling authorization, "drill, baby, drill" is not the answer. In fact, it is childishly deceptive.
The answer, tiresome and expensive though it may seem, is reduced energy consumption in general and, in particular, the replacement of fossil fuels by alternative sources. In any case, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that America is destined to see more tragic events such as those in West Virginia and in offshore Louisiana until it changes its ways.