Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Have We Got to Lose?

I was chatting with a co-worker at the day job this afternoon and the subject of the Gulf Oil Spill came up. I’d like to say right up front that if I had the answer to how to fix that, I would have spoken up by now. And, because so much of my Day Job is fixing things that inadvertently broke, I really wish I did have a fix for that one. The Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife are some of my very favorite things in my whole existence. The fact that greed, mistakes, thoughtlessness, and even the sheer need for a job may have done much to ruin those things is heartbreaking to me. And people died there too.

What a shame if my memories of the beauty of that part of the earth became just memories. How would you explain them to someone who might never experience them? How do you explain that life is more important than beauty and the fact that this is deadly, not just nasty is the real horror? How would you explain how it happened that we were given custody of an ecosystem, a region, a segment of the life of the world and, well, oops, ya’ know?

It’s not like your teenager just totaled your Mercedes or your Toyota or your Ford. “What were you thinking??” you could erupt in astonishment. “You’re grounded.” “You’ll work off every penny.” “Good grief, are you hurt?” “Please don’t tell me there was anyone else involved.” “Did you say anything to the other driver?”

No the “wreck” is still happening. There’s goo and ooze in Lake Ponchatrain. It’s washing up on beaches and in the swamps. It’s on the shrimp, the birds, the fish. There are frantic emails about burning turtles. And there are articles that say, well, that’s nothing new, and, hey, it could happen again. Just about everyone thinks it’s not OK, except that guy who thinks his life should be getting back to normal soon. We don’t feel sorry for him. Or at least I don’t.

There’s a really good reason for figuring this is BP’s problem to solve. They agreed to take the risk and responsibility to drill for oil on government land. And the bad thing happened. I get the impression that all of a sudden there’s the thought that it was an acceptable risk if BP didn’t find oil. But the fact that the accident on BP’s watch affects the lives of the families of those who were killed, the lives of the people whose livelihoods depend on there not being globs of goo all over, the towns whose livelihoods may never be the same because of the cascading effect of inaccessibility to the Gulf beaches and waters, the critters who will be choked and affected for generations or perhaps even eliminated and even that poor bastard who bemoaned the annoyance of this emergency interrupting his personal life aloud and in front of people who get the difference between his inconvenience and an ecological disaster, well, shouldn’t the government do something about it?

Actually the government does do something about it. It’s called OPA ’90, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. It’s there because a little thing called the Exxon Valdez and the misery that caused. It’s there so businesses that experience tangible, accountable loss as a result of oil spilled in navigable waters can put in a claim for redress for business interruption and other business losses. They shouldn’t have to wait while the lawyers duke it out for years to come to come down to manufacturing standards or quality control for a gasket or whatever. But generally, people make the claims for things like that if they know about them and when they have an idea of what the claim would be. The problem is, of course, the hole isn’t plugged. How do we know what the extent of this is going to be? And all the while we scratch our heads over that one, we can watch live underwater cameras as more oil flushes into the Gulf from the hole drilled there.

And what if BP loses its corporate shirt here? It’s too bad. Of course there will be more working folks who will be out of a job and the rest of the working folks will end up paying higher prices at the pump for real, perceived or anticipated expenses, whether the oil was BP’s or not. There’s that cascading economic effect too. That’s the thing about capitalism. Everybody loves it when we’re “winning.” Everybody hates it when something goes wrong, and they want someone some higher power to get them out of the hole, literally and figuratively.

Worst of all, there are people out there saying that this is God’s will because … and filling in the blank with every far-fetched thing from believing in the “wrong” religion to being the “wrong” orientation, sexual or anything else. I have to say that God’s will or not, there’s no one out there with a telephone connection so clear to God that they know why this happened. But I have a pretty good idea it isn’t punishment for anything other than stupidity and foolishness. And now we all get to pay in so many ways.  Can you hear me now?

All the while we argue here, that hole is still pumping oil into the once-beautiful blue water that teemed with life and is part of the “engine” of currents that keep the world’s weather … well, shoot, that’s getting messed up too.

Did we just break the best toy we were ever given? Did we just burn down the house? Did we just win our own Darwin Award in the un-funniest joke ever? Are we still waiting for Bruce Willis to sail in on a cable with high-powered ammo and save us all within the span of two hours? Bruce, my movie love, my hero, can’t you fix us and save the world just this one more time? Or call Spiderman? Or maybe in this case Aquaman? Or have we finally found the Truth Out There, Scully and Mulder, that the oil monster got us before the cloned corn and killer bees?

And all the while that hole is still pumping oil. So I did something a little crazy last weekend. I handed out a seashell to the people I spoke to.

“This,” I said, “this is what we’re losing. This, and so much more.” Sometimes people don’t believe in something until they can touch it, so I want them to touch seashells. They are the beautiful dead remains of life that had a chance to live a normal lifespan for its species. Who knows how long we will have them?

If you pray, please pray. If you don’t pray, please do what you do. And please do more than that. Support cleanup, make the problem tangible, send money, understand the impacts, and support innovation and efforts that will at least plug the hole, before we all go down the drain. What have we got to lose, except everything?

Best fishes.

1 comment:

  1. Marcia, thank you for this post. It touched me in ways all the news coverage couldn't begin to. I've never gotten to visit that part of the world, but this is heartbreaking in so many ways.