Dark Cloud of Oil

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.

Deepwater Horizon

Here’s an eco-themed mix.

For ten days or so I’ve been in something akin to a state of denial, or perhaps a better term would be extreme wishful thinking. I was sorry to hear people had died when Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. I wished the workers who were missing would be found alive, but that didn’t happen. I wished the leakage of oil would prove to be minimal, but that didn’t happen. I wished efforts to contain the mess would be successful, but so far no luck there either.

Most of all I wished this would turn out to be a false alarm, a not so big deal in the big scheme of things. It is clearly a disaster. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a catastrophe. But it is looking more and more like that.

Now a smell pervades the area. I can’t quite detect it myself, not having a good nose, but they say it smells like diesel fuel. Mind you, we are quite some distance from the Gulf here in New Orleans. That’s how big this thing is.

We are concerned about the health effects of breathing hydrocarbons. I’m concerned about the health of our child. But what are we going to do? Evacuate?

It’s not an oil spill, technically. It is like an erupting fountain of oil deep, deep under the water. A “wild well” might be the proper term. A river of petrochemicals, gushing into the water of the Gulf at an astonishing rate of 5,000 barrels a day — maybe more. That’s almost a quarter million gallons per day. As big as that number is, the most important part of that phrase is the last two words — per day. This has been going on for something like ten days already, and the really bad news is no one has any way to stop it any time soon.

At least this will shut up the “Drill Baby Drill” idiots for a few moments. That’s not a partisan swipe at Sarah Palin, by the way, since we all know Republicans and Democrats have tended to promulgate reckless environmental policies, and that Obama has recently championed more aggressive drilling.

We seem determined to suck every last bit of oil out of the Earth, to feed our rapacious hunger for energy — and then what? Every school child knows that fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource. So when we run out — then we’ll develop alternatives. Is that the plan?

What are we waiting for?

Gulf Coast Levees and Arctic Oil

According to a story in the Biloxi Sun Herald:

Proponents of ANWR drilling are attempting to use Katrina relief to help push through a measure they’ve supported for more than 20 years. The ANWR proposal includes a provision to devote a portion of government revenue from drilling to improve the levee system protecting New Orleans and for other disaster prevention along the Gulf Coast, including Mississippi.

So we have to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling in order to pay for improving our levees? I understand politics is all about compromise, but this makes no sense to me. If Louisiana just got a fair share of the royalties from the gas and oil drilled off our own coast, we could pay for all this stuff ourselves.