Is it dramatic to compare the 200,000 gallons of oil that are spilling into and destroying the Gulf of Mexico each day to an arterial bleed? I was an EMT for a few years during college; I drove an ambulance and witnessed some pretty serious accidents. When the blood in someone’s body begins to spill out at an alarming rate, there’s a race against time to apply pressure and control the bleed; to get the artery stitched up. None of the paramedics or EMTs point fingers when we arrived to the scene of an accident; a life hung in the balance, and if we had ever stopped to ask who was to blame, or who might lose money because of it, or who would pay for the ambulance bill – the person would have surely died. The objective was to fix what had been broken and deal with the secondary issues later.
When I watch the video footage of the oil just spilling endlessly into the surrounding body of water, it haunts each moment of the day. But it’s worse than any car-wreck, and the only people with the tools to stop it are the perpetrators, themselves. Feeling powerless in a situation like this is not just an existential experience. We feel powerless because we act powerless. We act powerless because BP and governmental agencies continue to spend a lot of time and money convincing us that they know better. We can’t call 911 for an oil spill.
As you’re reading this, a black tower of sludge is still exploding and gushing and bleeding out, and the mobilization to plug it up isn’t nearly as drastic as it should be. People are still shopping in malls, getting their nails done, watching sports, chuckling with friends in the corners of bars. They say “the show must go on“, but for me, there is something so visceral and disturbing about the video above that it’s become the song I can’t get out of my head: a constant drone; a visual mantra. It’s the reminder that as I am making lunch or taking a shower or going for a run – the painfulness of global awareness paired with the demands of an unquenchable globalized thirst for oil and power, paired with our isolation and individual inability (or unwillingness?) to do anything other than pick up some of the wreckage and rinse it off, is too much to handle. Not many of us are trained to dress this sort of wound.
BP spokespeople will tell us that an abstract “We” are “focused on doing everything in our power to stop the flow of oil” and that “We” want to “mitigate the impact on the lives and livelihoods of those who have been affected“. They’ll claim that “while we continue in these efforts, we are participating fully in investigations that will provide valuable lessons about how to prevent future incidents of this nature,” and we are convinced that someone will be held accountable. (source)
In 2003, the ambulance I was driving arrived on the scene of a domestic violence case. The victim was beat up pretty badly, and the abuser had eerily become as docile and apologetic as a puppy. Something about this scenario resonates with each man-made environmental disaster:
They promise not to hit us again. They apologize, and say they didn’t mean it. Can’t we see how it hurts them to know they’ve hurt us? They are dressing the wounds they inflicted. They tell us not to leave them, and each time we want to believe that they really do love us. “This time…“, we say to ourselves,”This time they’ll really change.”
In fact, they will try to make themselves the heroes of this situation. Ultimately, no individual person will be held accountable and we’ll all shrug our shoulders and say “oh well, that’s life“, and get back to doing what we do until the next major oil disaster happens, at which point everyone will act shocked. “We couldn’t have predicted this“, we’ll say again. Well, here I am in 2010 predicting that it will happen again and again. Unless, of course, we realize that asking nicely is useless.
The consequences of oil drilling will always outweigh the benefits. This is a lesson that must be learned in a perpetually losing game – and it’s a lesson that will never be taken seriously by those in power. Fossil fuels are not infinite. The cost of ignoring that lesson goes against the will of so many, including the sperm whales, bluefin tuna, brown pelicans, turtles, fish, coastlines, river-systems that are fed by the oceans, forests that are fed by the river-systems, and all life on this planet. This is not mean to be poetic – this is basic ecology; if the oceans die, we die. If we perpetually gorge giant holes into the ocean floor, we will continue to have accidents and kill vast areas of the planet, animals, forests, our families, our best friends, our one and only home.
Don’t let the glitz of a heavily funded PR agency fool you, or the stern and comforting promises of any governmental agency bring too much solace; just because it’s common does not mean this behavior is not a sickness. Just because it’s institutionalized does not mean it isn’t pathological. It’s a text-book case of an abusive relationship. How much longer can we stick around?
BP’s underestimated dead animal count is 9,835 and growing as of 3/15/10.