I’ve been monitoring the heartbreaking developments of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil leak all weekend long on the internet. Other than learning about the possible cause and the plans for containment, I’ve also learned something about the (eco)psychology of this disaster from the perspective of the public who is reading these same articles. I’ve noticed that public sentiment, via the comment board postings below each article I read on CNN, Huffingtonpost, FoxNews and Mike Ruppert’s blog, has been swaying between blame and anger and a stronger demand for a wake-up call regarding safer, renewable energy sources. What’s missing, for the most part, from the public commentary is a shrug and dismissal of the catastrophe as a “necessary evil”. Everyone seems to feel this is a wake-up call, whether it’s a wake-up call to the way some corporations put profit over ecological concerns and safety, or a wake-up call that we have to begin stepping up our national efforts to diversify our energy needs to more renewable and less potentially deadly sources.
The latest headline, for example, suggests that the Gulf Coast oil spill has appeared to lessen the administration’s enthusiasm for future offshore oil drilling. What was previously deemed as “safe” by the oil industry is now in question. Is it really safe? If it was an accident of nature, then it’s unpredictable and not safe. If it was sabotage, then the very idea this sort of event can be manufactured to make a political statement makes deep water drilling unsafe. The only way it can be made safe is to put in redundant and over-the-top safeguards that can prevent any sort of foreseen and unforeseen incidents in the future, or eliminate off-shore oil drilling completely (yeah, that’s not going to happen anytime soon).
In an interview with a survivor of the oil rig explosion, it is apparent that this was an act of nature. The rig employees were conducting routine testing of the well, and everything was checking out o.k. when suddenly there was a blowback of natural gas that came up so fast and forcefully up the pipe from the well, it blew out the valve and spilled heavier-than-oxygen natural gas all over the platform in a matter of minutes. Something—perhaps even static electricity—ignited the dense gas (odorless and colorless) and set off the first of a series of explosions. Simply put, they hit a pocket of extremely high-pressure gas that their equipment couldn’t safely contain.
The survivor said that the balance of pressure from the rig and well at those depths are tenuous and a very delicate balance. It seems that the balance tipped, and now the entire Gulf region is facing an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions.
As Mike Ruppert wrote on his blog, “…maybe Mother Earth will have poisoned us with the substance we have so greedily raped her — and killed each other — for… “You want oil?… I’ll give you oil.”
The Blame Game
It’s difficult to fathom such a destructive situation and not want to blame somebody. It’s human nature and it’s a way to direct the anger and despair away from ourselves. Some are blaming the government for not having enough regulation of the oil industry. Some are blaming BP for not putting enough safeguards in place and spending the extra money for additional back-up systems. Some are already blaming the Obama administration for not acting quickly enough, even though the containment of the well has been likened to an Apollo 13 mission a mile underwater. Translation: a near impossible task, given the depth and the fact that the tangled metallic mess of the destroyed rig is laying on top of the well.
There are even those who are forming conspiracy theories. The North Koreans sent a secret torpedo from Cuba. Environmentalists rigged this disaster so that no new oil drilling platforms would be allowed. The government planned this so that they could control us better through more regulation and a nationalization of the oil industry. This sort of thinking is just one more way to deflect the anger and despair we’re feeling inside, but it isn’t productive or helpful.
Why do we want to deflect our anger? Because blaming someone and feeling angry feels much better than feeling despair and bone-deep sadness deep in our heart and soul. Blaming others means we don’t need to change what we’re doing because we feel above blame. Anger is invigorating and allows us to not have to feel responsible or face the truth.
So what is the truth? The truth is that we are all a party to this mess, because we live in a world that is utterly and completely dependent on oil for survival. The oil companies keep drilling wherever they viably can because the public demands cheap energy to run the economy. Unless we face that simple fact, we are doomed to keep repeating these sorts of ecological and economic disasters in the future.
Go Ahead, Feel Your Despair
Unfortunately, blaming others, corporations and political parties for this disaster won’t solve anything or keep this from destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of animals and humans dependent on the Gulf of Mexico. Unless we all realize our own culpability in this, we won’t make any lasting or significant changes that will prevent this from ever happening again.
We have to embrace the fact that each time we get into a car or gas-powered public transportation, we are contributing to the oil industry. Each time we type on a keyboard, put on a piece of polyester or nylon clothing, eat non-local food, use plastic or any product that was transported by planes, trains, trucks or boats, we are using oil. As long as we continue to subsidize the oil industry with our oil-rich way of life, our environment will always take a back seat to Our Way of Life.
As helpless as you may feel about stopping the oil from infiltrating the ecology of the Gulf and possibly the Atlantic, you probably feel just as helpless about staying away from the very thing that is poisoning our environment. Our very survival is so intricately tied to oil. The helplessness I feel is so deep and profound. When I calm the anger and fear and resentment long enough and listen to what’s really in my heart, what I hear is utter despair for the world and all its inhabitants.
Therefore go ahead, feel your despair. It’s not easy to see something that’s so devastating unfold and know that in your small way, you too had a part in this drama. Denying your feelings or trying to stuff them down or deflect them away through blame and shame isn’t going to solve anything. It’ll just create more fodder for the mainstream media, more bickering and debate and then endless gridlock over details that are meaningless and counter-productive in the long run.
Now Do Something
Once you can admit to all your feelings and actually feel them, there is something you can do to actually make a difference for the future.
Besides directly participating in the efforts of the clean up through such organizations as the Nature Conservancy, or donating money to similar organizations, there are things you can do to lessen how much oil you use in your life:
• Bike or walk instead of driving if at all possible, to work, the grocery, to visit friends, to run errands.
• Buy local, organic produce instead of produce shipped from another state or country.
• Join a CSA or participate in a community garden to grow some of your own food. Locally grown, organic food takes a fraction of the oil to produce and transport conventionally-grown, imported food.
• Grow your own garden.
• Choose natural fibers like cotton, linen and wool instead of polyester or nylon, or better yet, buy your clothing from a thrift store whenever possible.
• Consider used before new, consider if you really need something before you buy it, especially if it’s not local and made from plastic.
• Be an advocate for more public transportation, especially the kind that runs more on an electricity grid fueled by renewable resources like wind.
• Write a letter to your government officials demanding more creative ideas, funding and projects related to renewable, safer energy sources.
• Invest in your local community by banking local, supporting your local community garden, shopping at independently-owned stores instead of big box retailers, and, if it’s in your means, be a venture capitalist to companies that have innovative solutions for sustainability.
The public sentiment I’ve observed online in the last few days tells me that people want to be less dependent on oil for energy, but they realize that it’s not an easy transition to make. Making small changes, combined with a mindful awareness of the paradigm that’s contributing to the pollution of our planet is the minimum we should all be doing. It all starts with examining our hearts and allowing ourselves to feel whatever we’re feeling, so that we can make thoughtful, intelligent choices about the future of our planet.