When I was in high school I had a math teacher who always said, “We learn best those things that cost us blood.” Under ordinary circumstances I would agree with that, but human beings as a species seem to have developed some sort of odd learning disability. We seem incapable of learning from the past these days; some sort of selective memory disorder that set in around the Industrial Age, perhaps?
I have watched in horror and dismay over the past week and a half as the story of the Louisiana oil spill goes from bad to worse to disastrous. To make matters worse this ecological meltdown is occurring in my personal childhood backyard. Five generations of my family have lived in the South along the Gulf Coast or nearby. Members of my family have worked on oil rigs, fished off the shores of Gulf and have engaged in any other sort of work to be found in the area stretching from Texas to Florida. They typically support anything that bring more jobs into the area and puts food on the family table, so they would definitily fall into the Drill, Baby, Drill camp. I on the other hand, tend to take a longer view of the decisions being made regarding the care our global ecosystem and I have a deep and abiding love of the wild aspects of the South where I grew up. If I had to chose between alligators and strip malls, I’ll vote for the alligators and the birds and the sea turtles, all of who were already endangered or under environmental threat before BP’s Deepwater Horizon blew up and spewed, what is now thought to be, approximately 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
We seem to have forgotten our environmental history in the United States. The very first Earth Day was a reaction to a blowout of an oil platform off of Santa Barbara, CA in 1969. That same disaster gave rise to President Nixon’s National Environmental Policy Act and led to a moratorium on new drilling off both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Twenty years later, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurs and though Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in compensation to the fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed, only $507.5 million in damages was every paid out. Populations of killer whales, herring and various species of birds never recovered. Fishing villages disappeared completely in Alaska. Not surprising, since it turns out studies demonstrated that the oil spill was several hundred times more toxic than was originally predicted. Now in 2010, another environmental catastrophe occurs two days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and we are faced with an ecological disaster that threatens to dwarf all previous oil spill mishaps. Obviously we are not learning from our mistakes or our history. Maybe we should not be allowed to play in this sandbox till we learn how to do so responsibly.
While we can blame big oil companies like Exxon and BP for these disasters — especially for the preventable aspects of them — we need to acknowledge that the root cause of the problem is our addiction to all thing petroleum based. We can play the finger pointing game with big corporations, the federal government and all the usual suspects, but in the end we all have to educate ourselves and become active in saving the world’s oceans and start cutting petroleum from our lives. It shows up in the most unlikely places — your allergy medication, for instance. We have developed the tunnel vision of addicts, all we (as a nation) can focus on is oil when we really need to be looking for other solutions to our energy problems. Oil is just black liquid crack and we need to kick the habit. What would you be willing to do to get clean and free of this addiction?
Video:Louisiana Oil Spill