A Tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico

Hiker playing Native American Indian flute on the arctic coastal plain, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Alaska.

Playing a Native American Indian flute on the arctic coastal plain, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Alaska. Please click on the image to view a larger version of the photo.

Hey Folks,

I’ve been wanting to write for the last week about the current Gulf Oil disaster, but haven’t really been quite sure what to say. There are simply so many tangents to this mess that I’ve not known where to start. The deaths of 11 people seem, unfortunately, to fade into the melée of concern about big oil, political ineptness, poisoned ecosystems, fathomless litigations, ad infinitum. The web we weave seems larger than the spread of oil.

It makes sense, to me, to start at home. The reality is that this catastrophe stares us right in the eyeball. The mirror reflects our own lives – I drive a car, I love my gore-tex and silnylon tents, my synthetic-fill jacket, my polycarbonate cameras. I eat fresh bananas and whole grain breads shipped here from afar. My computer was flown directly from Shanghai, China. The world I live in is a fossil fuel world. That world includes crude oil belching from the ocean floor into the Gulf of Mexico, and on to Gaia knows where.

So I bear responsibility in this mess; I want cheap gasoline, cheap oil. I complained about the soaring gasoline prices just 2 years ago. I failed to demand that the federal government not exempt BP from an environmental impact study. I failed to demand that Minerals Management Services mandate a remote-control shut-off switch on all drilling operations. I failed to demand that the oil industry follow the strictest, safest procedures possible.

But it goes further than that; I failed to say ‘enough‘. I have enough gear, enough technology, enough information, enough shoes (trust me, I have more than enough shoes). Enough of everything. The Pavlovian demand for ‘more‘ that we’re conditioned to believe is ‘normal‘ drives this rig. The push for more oil, more power, more energy, more economy, more technology, more information, more shoes, more blogs, more photos, more Gore-tex, more noise. It is critically insane to believe that more pollution, more disaster, more dysfunction, more unhappiness, more hunger, more disease, more war and more tragedy won’t be a part of that system.

Because the 2 are inseparable. More energy is more pollution. More consumption is more extinction. More technology is more dissatisfaction. More information is more misinformation. More gasoline is more oil is more drilling is more than 5000 barrels of oil haemmorhaging from the earth; is more dead terns and pelicans and oil rig workers killed on the job.

If we decide to start at home, then I think we HAVE to start with remolding our economy; the word “economy” is a combination of 2 Greek words: “oikos” or “house” and “nemos” which means “to manage”. “Economy”, then, translates to manage your house or to manage your affairs.

We have to see our economic ideal of unmitigated growth as a death sentence, because it’s killing the planet. In fact, how often do we use that very word to describe economic activity? We WANT to make a killing, we HOPE to make a killing; that’s a good deal, no? When that killing washes up on a Louisiana beach in the form of an oil-soaked shorebird, why don’t we understand THAT is the killing we’ve been in pursuit of?

Can I do with less? I know I can do with less pollution. Less energy, less noise, less frenetic pursuit of that infernal more. When is enough enough? When is enough too much? When it comes in the form of 200 thousand gallons of oil spewing into the ocean? Or when we get that new G3 iPhone?

Let’s do better.



10 thoughts on “A Tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico

  1. Carlton Ward

    You are correct Carl,
    As much as we can try to make a smaller footprint, it is inevitable that we are still consumers of things that are mined & shipped with the waste being released back into Mother Earth in a more destructive state from what it began. Large amounts of uranium waste, sewage, fossil fuels & CFCs add up quickly and as much as we can individually try to do our part to minimize the effect, any impact at all should make us pause with concern. Film shooters had loads of chemicals and waste created from shooting & developing. Since turning digital, I fooled myself thinking I was leaving a smaller footprint but I now have several old computers that are headed to the recycle lot along with a bucket of used AA Duracells. The additional power consumption from recharging my batteries and running my MACs is mostly being generated from fossil fuels. Growing our own food and buying locally helps and I can download the CS5 upgrade rather than having a disk shipped but I would still prefer to have the physical disk sitting on my desk next to my IMAC in case I need to reinstall it and to load on my Macbook Pro for my traveling needs. My car gets 46 MPG but it is still a car. I live is a very rural area with no public transport so when I leave the house, I drive.
    The rationalizing of these things is getting harder to swallow and maybe thats what we will all start to feel as inhabitants of this planet which will hopefully bring about more change & awareness. The repercussions of this spill will be felt for the next couple of generations. I will go and volunteer myself for a couple of weeks with cleanup as I did after Katrina through a friend that organizes groups in the Gulfport , Ms area.
    Arnold Schwarzenegger said the other day that he was counting on a 100 Million dollar infusion to the California budget from new drilling platforms that were to start this year, but he said after watching the news & seeing the devastation this disaster has caused, he is pulling the plug on this plan and they will have to figure something else out to compensate for their budget. This gives me hope.
    Thank you for this well written article and I will share this with my facebook friends.
    Blessings, Carlton

  2. Michael E. Gordon

    Brilliant post, Carl. It’s horrifying to me that “progress” in our country equates to dollars earned, real estate developments developed, barrels filled, and whatever is Apple’s latest product.

    We’re stuck until we realize that oil is CRACK. We’re doomed to failure until people demand more and better. But life is pretty good here, and the iPad just came out….

  3. Geoff

    Carl – thanks for your thoughtful writing.
    Deaths in any industry are tragic, particularly for those directly touched by them. However, it’s also easy to lose sight of the many more resulting from other causes, whether that be a war against a ‘just cause’ or automobile accidents (37,261 humans were killed in car accidents and collisions in the USA in 2008 and that was the lowest number since 1961). Death, like pollution, seems to be a price we are prepared to pay, while ignoring the consequences, until it arrives on our personal doorstep. There is a cost to everything we do, but sometimes a benefit too.
    Technology aids research, research saves lives — otherwise USA life expectancy would not have risen from around 38 years at birth in 1850 to around 75 years in 2004. We call that progress and it’s reasonable to assume that everyone around the world wants to enjoy the same opportunity. That requires some level of global trade with producing countries and some careful budgeting and expenditure of our reserves.
    What seems to be missing is restraint by individuals, and in marketing, advertizing, branding and yes, in the media and travel business. The public is conditioned by what we see and what we are told — it’s why advertizing works. I wonder how many people would walk or bicycle to Alaska to experience its vast wilderness and what such restraint in using aviation fuel or gasoline would do for the economy of that great state. (Paradoxically how would we become aware of its need for protection from us if no one ever went there)?
    What is needed is a plan for restraint of rampant consumerism (otherwise known as the desire/gratification cycle) but a plan that also allows all nations and their economies to evolve in equilibrium with the planet and each other. Who knows, some of those evolving peoples might have a better answer than we do? I sure hope so.

  4. Mark

    Nicely written Carl. I am sure there is something that everyone can do to make a little bit of difference. But I often find myself looking at some of the reactions to key environmental issues today, in particular climate change, and so many that just shrug it off as some enviro-wacko, take away my rights, charge me more for my electrical bill conspiracy. The individuals who want to make a difference only goes so far. It seems like it will take hitting absolute rock bottom before this society wakes up from the addiction. We are no where near that yet. How much are we willing to pay to change this path? How much are we willing to compromise the luxuries that we partake in day in and day out? How big of a catastrophe does it actually have to be to get people to listen and change?

    I don’t see all consumerism as bad. Just look at the energy efficient devices that continue to come into the market every day. My washer, my dryer, my refrigerator, my furnace all consume less natural resources than what a similar device , performing the same function, consumed 20 years ago. I know my computers consume less power, are more recyclable, have less hazardous substances in them and run more efficiently than one I had just 5 years ago. Nonetheless, there are so many other things that I consume that I know I can do better with, so your point is well taken. (I also have too many shoes!!).

    I know people hate the big R word of regulation, but fuel economy, hazardous substance content, cleaner air, cleaner water are all results of it. I try to remain hopeful, but cannot get rid of the skepticism that the population in general will do all of this out of the general concern for the planet’s well being, let alone our own.

  5. pj finn

    The scope of the mess in the gulf is almost beyond words, but you said it very well. Thank you. We all need to take a good long look in the mirror and face the question — when will we finally say enough?

  6. David Leland Hyde

    Wonderful post Carl. I too have been struggling with what to say about this largest environmental disaster of the new millennium. Ultimately what it boils down to is that every one of us is part of the problem. Anyone who drives a petroleum powered car, eats food that is not locally grown and otherwise participates in the consumption-based-petroleum-driven economy, shares part of the responsibility. The “enough” that Mark refers to is each of us deciding to switch to an all-electric car or a bicycle, eating locally, going to solar or wind to power our homes and otherwise doing everything in our power RIGHT NOW to lessen our impact. As of now it is impossible to live 100 percent sustainably, but we can all do much more NOW.

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  8. Carl D Post author

    Hey Folks,

    Thanks all for the comments here; some great points all. Here we are nearly a month down the road and the situation still sucks; the hole is still spewing oil, albeit nearly plugged, and there is now no one knows how much oil drifting around the Gulf. My heart goes out to those folks living in the area, and all the work they’re doing to stem the problem.

    Thanks again,



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