Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gulf Between Us

It is fair to say that I am pissed for the second time that I can remember. Yesterday, I read Terry Tempest Williams' horrifying essay, The Gulf Between Us, which was published in the current issue of Orion Magazine. Instead of writing about "the facts" and "what we've been told" of the BP-Macondo Gulf Oil Spill, she centres her writing around the personal stories of people affected by the spill, from Louisiana to Florida. Accompanied by stunningly, beautifully sad images by J Henry Fair (you must click on this link and watch and listen to the slideshow), she witnesses and listens to people whose lives have been turned upside down because of the spill. She talks about people being mistreated, bullied and threatened by local government and BP for speaking up, the untold stories of hundreds and thousands of dolphins, whales, birds and sea turtles killed because of the spill - because of oil being set alight on the blue surface of the ocean, and the mainstream media's ineptitude and thoughtlessness in covering the spill. This post is about BP, Corexit (the dispersant used to "get rid of the oil"), perceptions of the problem, and the ineptitude of people we elect to office.

As many of you might be constantly thinking, it is so unfortunate what we are doing to other people, animals, plants, and ecosystems.We would think that environmental disasters and suffering can change human perception of problems, and mobilise people to rid our world of the fundamentals that cause these problems. Unfortunately, maybe only war (the kind in which people use missiles and guns to kill other people) is something that can mobilise people consistently today.

It seemed to me that addressing issues like climate change and sustainability would inherently be a difficult task because of the almost imperceptible changes that point to problems in our society. It seemed that it would take something visceral and explosive to mobilise people. That explosive event, for our generation, was the BP-Macondo Oil Spill (I don't mean to discount the countless environmental+human disasters that take place every day in South America and Africa and Asia, but the BP Spill was one of the only events covered by media from all over the world in which the environmental+human impacts of the spill were focused on. The Chilean miners being trapped underground was portrayed as more of an issue of the bravery and courage of humans, a redemptive story, rather than one of asking the question - Why were they trapped down there anyway?). Unfortunately, it seems to me like the opportunity to truly get people acting has come and gone. The Obama Administration's tepid response along with an almost collusion-like effort between regulatory agencies like the EPA and companies like BP to make it seem like the efforts expended were yielding incredible results, and their success in keeping personal accounts of the Spill out of the minds of people has lost us a chance to forge true change. In the end, issues will be settled in the courts, with Judge Carl Barbier, who will oversee about 300 lawsuits, owning corporate bonds in Halliburton and Transocean, two of the other defendants along with BP. People will be paid off, settlements will be made, and "the most complex litigation" in US history will soon be forgotten.

Yet lives, sentient and non-sentient, torn apart because of the spill cannot be easily mended together by money. Who will be there to defend the dolphins, who are choking at the surface? Apparently, dolphins have been illegally killed and have either been trucked down to Mexico to serve as food or dumped in landfills. Corexit ("corrects it, get it?"), which has been dumped by planes over land and water during the night, will continue to have toxic impacts on people and animals, yet it seems like it fulfilled its intended purpose perfectly - as long as the oil is not on the surface, as long it is spread vertically in the water column, who cares? Corexit contains 2-butoxyethanol (yes, carcinogenic) and a "proprietary organic sulfonate." I guess people have no right to know what they are breathing in and drinking, in the name of intellectual property.

I was talking to Kevin last night about the outcome of the midterm elections. Democrat or Republican, I couldn't care less for most of them in the Congress or White House. All of them need to be kicked out, and some of them need to be sent to jail. Their generation is one of the major contributors to the problems we face today - war, terrorism, environmental disaster and poor healthcare - we need to be the ones that show no mercy for their vested interests, and create what Laura Smith calls "durable change."

 I constantly think back to Graham's comment in September, "We've generated a lot of "knowledge" in the past two hundred years, but we've gained very little wisdom." Our problems are not being effectively addressed by technocrats and lifelong academics. It seems like Margaret agrees - "“We might not be the most educated people schoolwise, but we know more about nature than any PhD. We know. We know what’s goin’ on.”

No comments:

Post a Comment