Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Is the Gulf Disaster Over or Just Beginning?
The Deepwater Horizon disaster should have reminded us as a society that thinking of ourselves as a “developed” nation is a bit premature. A fully developed nation has the capacity to meet its needs without operating in a way that creates existential threats. We do not meet that standard yet in the U.S. What do you think?
Let’s review: The Gulf oil blow-out, which may have resulted from negligence, left 11 people dead, unknown millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf, millions of sea mammals and fish dead, and a wide range of family businesses destroyed—possibly forever. The well was closed about one month ago, and now the punch line is “it’s over.” Really?
In addition to the beach cleanup, which is ongoing, work is just beginning on a number of fronts. The government has multiple investigations into London-based BP and its own regulators to determine how many different systematic failures led to the blow-out. Countless lawsuits are being filed by individuals, families and businesses. Fisheries are being examined to determine whether they are safe. Researchers are examining strategies for raising the funds necessary to truly understand where the oil has gone and what its long-term effects will be. This is not over. The $20 billion fund established by BP to compensate victims doesn’t even begin to reflect the true costs here.
More than all of this combined, the biggest issue on the table remains unspoken. We are all responsible for this. Raise your hand; you are the problem. Check your 401k. Examine your driving habits. Consider whom you have voted for the past 20 years. Recall how many actions you have taken to indicate to companies and the government that our addiction to oil costs us more in life and treasure than it will ever be worth. If after conducting this analysis you conclude you are guilt-free—somehow not part of the oil-based economy in this country, living a life without connection or responsibility for this and other disasters like it—then call me at (202) 429-2694. We can chat about the oil-driven violence in Nigeria, the two Gulf wars and I’ll bring you up to speed on this little news item called climate change.
What will it ultimately take to fundamentally shift our mindset to recognize that oil is not the only, the best or even a reasonable way to fuel our lives? Ultimately, some event will shake us even more than the Gulf disaster did. Instead of waiting for that catastrophe, how about we wake up now!
Michael P. Washburn, Ph.D., is the senior director for Eastern forests for The Wilderness Society and a member of Eco-Logic's advisory board.