I hesitate to write much about the oil apocalypse in the Gulf, because it’s complicated and technical and I don’t want to be perceived as setting myself up as some sort of self-styled expert. That would be foolish. All I know is what I read in the papers and online. (Mainstream press coverage is bleak enough, but you don’t have to venture too far afield to find extremely divergent accounts, which is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.) But this story dominates the local headlines, and the smell of petrochemicals fills the air, so it’s impossible not to think about what’s happening.
After all the harrowing events surrounding the hurricanes of 2005 and the subsequent struggle to rebuild, this feels like a massive kick in the crotch. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who live closer to the coast. In New Orleans, it was just a few months ago that we felt maybe we were starting to get it together. We elected a new administration, our team won the Superbowl, and HBO premiered a new TV show about our city. There was a pervasive sense of optimism, an idea that maybe the promise of recovery might be realized, that maybe we can do this despite all the challenges.
It almost seems like we were getting a little too uppity. Like we had to be taken down a peg. Like we had to be reminded of our rightful place in the scheme of things. I know that’s absurd, but it has sometimes felt that way to me — as if we are being punished for daring to hope that we were on the right track.
Meanwhile we continue to go through the motions of everyday life as if everything is OK.
There’s plenty of anti-BP sentiment around, but I’ve been surprised to see a number of people scoff at the notion of a boycott. To me it just seems like a given that when a massive company screws up so badly that a widespread citizen boycott should be organized. There should be an price to pay for bad behavior. Unfortunately consumers in the US don’t seem to think that way. Most people don’t seem to put much thought into where their money goes. But I’m baffled by thoughtful people who don’t see the value of a boycott.
Another response I’ve seen is to point the finger of blame at us, the consumers who desire cheap gas and petrochemical products. I suppose there might be some value in that criticism, but I wonder. Those who are receptive to the criticism are probably already acting on it. Those who need to hear this message the most are probably the most impervious. Many of us are already making efforts to reduce our consumption, but that’s only going to get us so far. As much as I’d like to see a revolution in consciousness spontaneously lead to more ecologically harmonious living across the board, I don’t envision that happening any time soon. Other measures are needed. For example, I’m convinced we won’t significantly reduce consumption of disposable grocery bags until stores stop giving them away. Criticizing the American consumer might be counter-productive if it draws focus away from BP’s malfeasance and from finding real solutions.
I asked Xy what she’d think if the price of gas went up to $10 a gallon. She said that would probably be all for the best.
It’s hard not to be extremely depressed about this catastrophe that’s unfolding in slow motion, but I feel a tiny bit better having expressed some of these thoughts.