It's raining, after a hot couple of days. The water is pattering on the roof, and it's soothing, sleepy, nourishing. We've been planting like crazy, and I'm glad that the skies have opened up and are feeding the soil, and that we don't have to pump well-water through the sprinklers. And through the open windows, I heard bird call, and then, a pounding, drilling noise. Someone is building nearby. And I think, angrily, aren't there enough buildings already? Haven't we created enough stuff? Isn't there a glut of houses on the market?
You know, we need a lot less stuff than we think we do. Our microwave broke about a month ago. We've been fine without it. I gave up cable last year, then moved to the farm where there is no TV. I don't miss it. I have a couple pairs of jeans and a bunch of farm shirts and sweaters. I have just a couple dressy clothes. I love it. It makes it easier to get dressed in the morning. Fewer choices can be freeing. I can feel myself shaking off the consumerist, materialist culture, like a wet animal trying to get dry...
I am deeply saddened, and so, so angry, about the oil "spill" in the Gulf of Mexico. You know, the word "spill" just doesn't cut it--a spill is what happens when your glass tips over, or when your stack of books and papers falls over. You "take a spill" when you trip and tumble to the ground. Spill sounds small. Spills sound like accidents. Spills don't imply major consequences.
What we are witnessing unfold is a man-made, destructive, seaborne toxic event. (Yes, that's a nod to Don DeLillo, for you White Noise fans out there.) It's more than a leak; it was described today as "an underground volcano of oil," streaming out 200,000 gallons of oil a day. Our technology and know-how aren't working--every effort to contain or reduce the effects of the toxic event has failed.
It's not just an unfortunate part of living in today's world. It's a result of negligence, arrogance, and greed. Halliburton (remember Dick Cheney's buddies who got all those no-bid contracts for the war in Iraq, whose faulty workmanship led to the electrocution of soldiers while showering, whose profiteering has been the subject of much investigation and invective?) seems to be a likely culprit, in shoddy "cementing" of the rig. But, to be fair, there's plenty of blame to go around.
The oil industry and its lobbyists have worked very hard to weaken regulations, including inspections and safety standards. Nice job! Thanks for that! British Petroleum (BP) has recently had a particularly bad record. In 2005, another accident killed 15 people. They were caught disabling a warning system, and were fined $50 million. The list goes on. It's too much to recite. And it looks like there's something called an "acoustic switch" which is designed to activate in case of deep underwater leaks--this switch is mandated by other oil producing countries, but not by the US--because, according to environmental lawyer Mike Papantanio, the secret Cheney energy task force prevented the requirement of such switches.
And then there's us. We are implicated in this disaster as well. We've allowed our culture to become so intimately intertwined with all things petroleum. Think about it. Petroleum is everywhere. Polyester clothes. Petroleum in our makeup (propylene glycol, parabens). Petroleum in our pharmaceuticals. Petroleum in our agricultural fertilizers ("petrochemicals"). Petroleum in our beds, off-gassing toxic vapors while we sleep. Just try to live for a month without purchasing or bringing into your home any bit of plastic. Petroleum is everywhere in our lives, because plastic is everywhere in our lives. This problem is so much more than just gasoline for cars.
And we know the costs. We remember the Exxon Valdez. We know about pollution. I'm not even getting into the health and economic costs, the impact on fishermen, local communities, seafood lovers across the nation... We know that oil is finite, and that eventually we'll have to find other sources of energy. We know that the search for cheap energy leads us to foreign lands, to strange bedfellows, to war.
Somehow we think it makes more sense to drill deep underwater, or try to wring oil out of tar sands, than to turn towards other solutions. I've learned this year at the convent that the word "repent" doesn't mean just to feel remorse about something. It means "to turn." We need to turn toward a new energy future. I've known that since I was in high school, now 25 years ago. We've known this a long time. This is not news, which is what makes it so sickening.
What are we doing, to ourselves, to this gift, to this creation? Why do we believe we have the right to view Earth, our home, as a "resource"? Are we that short-sighted that we can't imagine the consequences of full-bore extraction of minerals and oils and freshwater, damming of rivers and destruction of floodplains, clear cutting of forests and mountain-top removal, and dumping of toxins everywhere? Who do we think we are that we believe our consumer way of life is more important than the health of this living planet, our only home?
We are drenched in petroleum, no less than the birds and sea turtles in the Gult, who are coated with oil from this devastating toxic event. Part of me thinks that our culture has a collective drive to coat every fiber of our lives in petroleum, and that this imperative has spontaneously manifested itself in the natural world...that all these creatures are physically drenched in the destructive longings of our culture.