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02 June 2010 @ 08:31 am
oil's greasy hold  
For the past month, all day, every day, a pocket in my mind is agonizing about the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It pains me to think about the environmental impact of it, and the sheer waste of it makes me want to scream. Okay, oil is energy, and it powers every last corner of our daily life, and these tons and tons of it are just going to waste, when at the very least, something good could have come of them. They could have been turned into hospital tubing that carries lifesaving blood to patients, or powered the engine of a car carrying someone home to see her family. Instead, it's just making a horrifying mess of a beautiful part of the world.

So, you can imagine how I felt upon reading this article about how utterly normal this kind of thing is. The Deepwater Horizon event gets a lot of attention because it's off US shores and in an ecosystem that a lot of people know and care about. That article discusses another oil spill that happened this spring -- actually, a whole series of major and ongoing spills and leaks -- that we don't hear about -- or I hadn't, anyway -- and I'll leave the why of that for you to figure out for yourself.

I hate how impotent I feel in the face of this stuff. My heart aches, and I think about what I feel like I can do. I briefly considered not using a private vehicle for the rest of the year, or not flying anywhere ever again, but that's like a grain of sand in the vastness of the ocean of how we use oil and won't make even a tiny difference, so it's hard to feel like it's worth making near every part of my life harder or more complicated just for the sake of a minuscule patch of moral high ground. And it's not like that would get me off the teat of the earth's black gold, because everything I consume comes to me by way of this rich energy, and I'm too embedded in my life to truly want to up and move to a subsistence farm in some fertile valley. It feels so damn insurmountable.

And then I come back around to simple bafflement. We all know that oil is a limited resource. There's lots of it, sure, but we use a lot, and we know the supply is, at the end of the day, finite. So why is it worthwhile for oil companies to use shoddy systems that, when they fail, spill so much of this stuff in such a harmful way? Why is it not worth a care for the people and places where these systems are in place? seems like a question that a multinational corporation just doesn't register at all, and that baffles me, too, but in the language of money, aren't these spills like pouring money into quicksand, never to be recovered?

It's gross. How can we internalize these costs into the cost of the oil we use? At the very least, if we're going to fuck up the Gulf of Mexico or the entire country of Nigeria in our fast-burning way of life, we should pay the real price.
Tags: ,
I'm feeling: angryagonized
lazyzlazyz on June 2nd, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
Me, too. The suffering caused by this screw up is so vast, and still growing. It seems we are determined to use up every drop of oil until we are forced to find an alternative. Doesn't anyone consider that a bit of available oil might be even more of a treasure in the future, if we have a future. It's pretty hard not to fear what we will do next to the earth and each other.
funner'n a sack a weaselsmoominmolly on June 2nd, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
Arrrrruuururgh. Yeah. This.
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on June 2nd, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
at a guess, i would say that the oil companies do care, very deeply and also very precisely. after all, it isn't just money spilling on the ground, there: it's british petroleum's money spilling on the ground.
funner'n a sack a weaselsmoominmolly on June 2nd, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
They might care now that the money is spilling into the ocean, but they clearly didn't care enough to do the right thing in the first place.
Boring Nerd: Bilesignsoflife on June 2nd, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
My poorly-informed understanding is that these offshore rigs are on leases, not owned mineral rights, so it's not really BP's money until it's in their barrels. I would be happy for anyone to augment or correct that understanding.
David Policardpolicar on June 2nd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)

Something I experiment with as a way of making it feel less insurmountable is believing that the way out is technological advance -- new energy sources, new safety mechanisms, etc. -- and reminding myself that I'm usefully embedded (and could be far more so, should I choose to devote the additional energy to it) in a social structure that makes those advances.

It's only intermittently useful, but it seems to point in the right a useful direction.

Edited at 2010-06-02 01:47 pm (UTC)
Medyanimedyani on June 2nd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. It makes me feel a bit less alone, in my misery over this.

My ability to articulate "productively" about this spill is limited for many of the same reasons you discuss. There are so many levels at which this is so damned wrong, and so horrible to witness, and yes, the feeling of helplessness is tough to handle. I gave a few small donations to environmental organizations, signed a few petitions, but even though "every little bit helps," the little bit is small comfort.

It's also small comfort -- for the time being anyway -- to believe this may finally change the way we do business. Perhaps it will mean a safer situation in the Arctic, Alaska, and other drilling sites including perhaps Nigeria. I, too, saw that article, and read this one: http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0531-hance_consumption.html about our oil consumption. At the same time, we didn't learn our lessons well enough from the 1969 spill in the San Franscisco Bay. If we don't police the greedy and the arrogant-- those with big machinery like drill rigs -- this is going to happen again and again.

I think we must keep talking. I think we must remain engaged and enraged, so that a couple of years from now, when that huge expanse of coastline and water and all its inhabitants (the ones that are left) are still suffering the poisonous effects, we are still actively cleaning it up, and trying to make it better.

And so when they drill in new places-- http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0524-hance_amazon_oil.html (Peru opens up more of the Amazon to drilling) -- perhaps they/we will do it more safely.

But what I'm saying is nothing new, right? True. Hence I'm searching for productive articulation. Last week, in the midst of my despair, I realized that the very best thing I could do was throw myself into my current work assignment: I am writing a brochure to sell the renewable energy program here. So this is what I can do today. I'll look for more stories like it in the coming months. And I'll keep looking for whatever little thing I can do tomorrow (yesterday, I also walked to a meeting in a rainstorm, rather than waste gas). It makes me feel just a little less helpless.
Jadiajadia on June 2nd, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way. Unfortunately when I asked for things to do no one really suggested anything more than what I'd already thought of.

Even if what we can personally do is miniscule compared to the size of the problem, and it feels like it doesn't matter if we do it or not, the miniscule bits add up. So we should still do it. I haven't really done much even though I've been horrified, because inertia is such a big force, but I've been thinking of things like cutting my gas use by 20%, or going off plastic entirely, etc. I don't know that I could give up flying, but I can definitely cut down on the number of flights I take and be more judicious about taking the flight.

And I really really should write letters to politicians and donate money but I've been lame.
Misanthropic extrovert: slick depresseddbang on June 2nd, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)

I had No. Idea.

I'm just...speechless.
Deloresdebsquared on June 2nd, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
we should pay the real price
You say, "At the very least, if we're going to fuck up the Gulf of Mexico or the entire country of Nigeria in our fast-burning way of life, we should pay the real price."

To me, this is the crux of both environmental and human rights problems. Like you say, our lifestyles are subsidized by these abuses (that, and cheap credit). I have no idea what to do about it, but I do feel that this is the real problem, and any solution that does not address it is just window-dressing.

Plan for Pandemoniumroozle on June 2nd, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
Re: we should pay the real price
I agree. At the very least, there needs to be a gulf-cleanup-oil-tax, and soon.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on June 3rd, 2010 12:23 am (UTC)
Re: we should pay the real price
Yeah, that's the conclusion I've come to, as well. I think all of the problems I have with today's capitalism would be solved by effective internalization of the full cost of things we consume.
Deloresdebsquared on June 3rd, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Re: we should pay the real price
From what I've read of capitalism in Germany, their companies do a much better job of pricing in the costs of environmentalism. Because of pressures from the government and the public, companies pay a large penalty if they don't take care of the environment. Human rights have a place, too, but mostly around frowning upon layoffs. I haven't seen evidence of the same human rights pressures around products outsourced by German companies.
Plan for Pandemoniumroozle on June 2nd, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
I had not known about the oil spill in Nigeria. I am appreciative to you for pointing it out to me, in a grim medicinal knowing-is-better-than-not-knowing sort of way.

Sierra posted a link a few months ago to a video by a woman who had radically changed her use of plastics, to the point where she was throwing out less plastic in a year than I do in a week. At least it opened my eyes to the sea of plastic I'm swimming in, and when I buy my takeout lunch in a plastic container, I think of her and how that bit of plastic will be around for thousands of years more.
sarahshevettsarahshevett on June 2nd, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
if it makes you feel any better
50% of the oil that leaks into the oceans is natural. Not that oil isn't natural, but maybe non accidental is a better term.
It seeps out all on it's own, and some of it is even captured


As long as humans have recorded their history, the natural occurrence of oil and gas at the earth's surface has been of great curiosity and considerable economic interest. Oil, tar, and natural gas seeps are part of the natural environment, and geological and archeological evidence shows that seepages have occurred throughout California for thousands of years. Even today, natural hydrocarbon seeps along the California coast continue to be more than an idle curiosity. Two small underwater containment structures positioned near Goleta Point, placed to collect natural seepage, have alone captured over 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas since 1982: enough natural gas to supply the needs of over 25,000 residential natural gas users each year.

pumpkin_pi on June 2nd, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, Shell's latest spill in the Nigerian Delta is only one of the many atrocities it's committed there (e.g., Shell's role in the torture and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa)
Boring Nerd: boring nerdsignsoflife on June 2nd, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
One of my dissertation projects is studying factors involved in the evolution of E. coli to use new carbon sources. Now I'm staring at bioremediation propaganda and wondering if that's something I could want to do with my life.
T Streichsweetbaboo on June 2nd, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
Given a sufficiently powerful energy source, we won't only not need oil, we'll essentially be able to create (petroleum) oil when we want it. Hooray for the conservation of mass!
MRFmrf_arch on June 3rd, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
I briefly considered not using a private vehicle for the rest of the year, or not flying anywhere ever again, but that's like a grain of sand in the vastness of the ocean of how we use oil and won't make even a tiny difference, so it's hard to feel like it's worth making near every part of my life harder or more complicated just for the sake of a minuscule patch of moral high ground.

It's not for the moral high ground - it's because the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.