Thoughts on the Gulf

I realize I haven’t blogged in almost a year, not even on our daughter’s birth and amazing life unfolding. This is a big topical leap for such a long time… but I want to capture some of my thoughts on what’s been going on in the Gulf because I will be asked about this someday by her. And rightly so. I often picture her asking about many events in human history, most of which I will have only read about myself. I’ll do my best to answer those questions based on what I’ve learned, rather than experienced. But not this. This will join an already painful set of 9/11, the wars, and Katrina as the American experience in the early 21st century. She’ll ask what happened, how we let it happen.
There’s no soft-shoeing, we’re failing here. I see that BP was just the breaking point in the chain of events. It could have been Exxon, Conoco, or some other oil company. When the platform first blew up, the public didn’t really know the extent of the leak; maybe BP did not either. BP certainly did not seemed very concerned, and even now the concern from the company seems more about itself then the spill.
We mostly watched at first. Surely this would be contained quickly, impact minimized, and we could go on with our lives. Lives that depend on plentiful, cheap oil. Lives where most Americans give little thought to how we get our energy. We drive or fly ourselves and our food everywhere, we use plastic bags, toys, tools, medical equipment. For the vast majority of us, even with concerted effort to minimize our oil use, it is pervasive. We like what it gives us for a lifestyle, it makes a lot of tasks easier. And if it’s not oil, it’s coal, also dangerous and destructive to source, and polluting to use. This oil spill came on the heels of a horrible coal mine disaster where 29 miners lost their lives, where another company was scrutinized for safety violations in an effort to save money and speed production. It’d be reflexive to say we didn’t learn the lesson, but these two events were nearly simultaneous symptoms of the problem, the energy appetite unchecked, yet in crisis.
So, in the case of the oil spill, the government deferred to industry; industry said it would be handled quickly. Hours passed into days and weeks. All the while it flowed, estimated 29 million gallons that oozed its way across the ocean, wreaking havoc on any life crossing its path. Now, 46 days later, the oil is still coming. The blame for the lack of clean up floats heavy on the surface, just as the oil does. The blame for its cause, a dark and bigger undercurrent.
The oil has washed up on the shores, covering pelicans to the point where they can only flail in its midst, where even the best efforts of the most numerous and dedicated volunteers will only save some. Humans are so good at damaging each other, which is hard enough to witness. When what we’ve done is put upon animals and ecosystems that have no anticipation, defense, or response, it is numbing, embarrassing. Unlike the claimed intangible damage of climate change, the impact of this human behavior on the environment is laid bare for all to see.
And so we are at a crossroads. What will I tell my daughter in 10 or 15 years, when she asks me these questions? Will I be able to tell her that this was the true gut check to the American people (if not all people), the waning of the days of energy at any cost? Will I be able to tell her that we finally moved to more varied and more sustainable sources? That human and animal lives became more valued in the end, not less so? Will I be able to tell her that her parents played a small part in making this happen?
Or will I be telling her of the opportunity missed, apologizing with heavy heart?