Have you seen that new commercial from AT&T, in which entire buildings, monuments, and cities are draped with rust-colored cloth? When I first saw it a couple weeks ago, it made me think not of the art by Christo and Jean-Claude, but of the oil in the Gulf. For don’t those orange curtains look like the orange muck spewing out of the blown-out well? And now that commercial makes me think that entire cities are being drowned in oil. Sadly, as a metaphor, it is not far from the truth.
I don’t know how to begin expressing my thoughts on this matter. I’ve been reading blogs and news reports several times a day for the past few weeks. My heart weeps at what I read, and my mind cries out in anger for my impotence.
Last I heard, at least 400 birds are dead. Dolphins, fish, turtles, and jellyfish are washing up on shore, dead. There are wandering plumes of oil pockets and oil droplets under the surface, choking off dissolved oxygen in the water, oxygen that is the basis of all life in the oceanic food chain. The hole is spewing 19,000 barrels (over 700,000 gallons) of crude per DAY. At that rate, if left alone, it would take 7 years for the reservoir of oil to empty into the sea. That is definitely not something that can be countenanced, considering the scope of the disaster now, after only a month. Multiply this by 84 months and you’ve got that AT&T commercial made manifest.
All the efforts by BP to control and cap the spill have failed. Now, they are drilling two “relief wells” coming in at a diagonal intersect to siphon off oil and pressure from the main well so that it can theoretically be shut–a process that requires absolute precision to work. Its hard to have confidence in their chances and their abilities considering the monumental pile of FAIL that has preceded this. Even should they succeed, these wells won’t be complete until August, so in the meantime, the crude will continue to flow, pollute, kill, and destroy.
All of that makes me feel sad and anxious, but what really angers me are the actions of the people involved in this disaster; the oil barons, the government, and the politicians. The oil barons (BP, Halliburton, and Transocean) have cut corners, by-passed numerous safety regulations, ignored advice from engineers, and outright lied about the magnitude of the spill itself. The government has fostered in itself an environment toxic with conflicts of interest–regulators and resource managers with personal and financial ties to the oil barons among the least of the corruption. And then there’s the politicians, from those like Rand Paul who dismiss the disaster as a mere “accident” and call criticisms of the oil companies “unpatriotic”; to those like Bobby Jindal who cry out for small government and deregulation and states rights and then demand the federal government save them from the effects of deregulation; to President Obama’s inability to do more to fix the problem.
Though, of course that begs the question of just what it is one can expect the President to do about this mess. He’s done what he can without commandeering BP’s property, militarizing the situation, and outright nuking that well. And should we even want him to do that? Is it even legal? We can be sure that those with a personal interest in keeping the well solvent are reluctant to do it. Whatever the case, there’s a big part of me that wants Obama to do it, and I’m frustrated that he’s not. And I want him to tell us why he won’t do it. There’s a whole lot more at stake here than the financial investment of 5 billion barrels of oil, and I really hope that Obama believes that too.
Then of course, there’s the anger and guilt I feel towards this society, and myself as a member of it, for fostering the conditions of greed and consumption and insouciance that allowed the events that led up to this disaster. We, with our addictions to cars, big houses, 72 degree Fahrenheit rooms, disposable oil-based luxuries such as polyester, plastic toys, computers, and smart phones, are complicit in this disaster as well. This country has needed to look beyond oil for decades, since our production capacity peaked in 1970. Our demand for instant gratification forced innovators to drill far and deep into dangerous waters instead of thinking outside the box for safer, newer technologies. This disaster in the gulf now punctuates the undeniable reality that in this next century, all our lives must change. I only hope we don’t smother the whole world with oil in the process.