There were hearings on Capitol Hill this week regarding the Gulf oil disaster, and virtually everyone involved – from witnesses to experts to government officials – had a grand old time throwing rocks at British Petroleum. The Obama administration and various government agencies have also been taking it in the teeth over their failure to quell the oil boiling up from the bottom of the sea. Beaches are closing, animals are dying, livelihoods are being destroyed, and unbelievable as it may seem, the worst is yet to come. New reports indicate the well may have been releasing oil equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill every eight to ten days since this whole thing started.
BP is taking the lion’s share of the beatings, and justly so. They ran a shoddy operation out there on the Deepwater Horizon, and knew even ten years ago that such operations were incredibly risky. They lied and lied again about the scope of the disaster. They have been attempting to limit press access to the disaster zone to keep people from finding out what is actually going on. Their corporate officers have denied the existence of oil plumes beneath the surface, and have held pity-parties for themselves on television over how trying this whole situation is for them.
This mess is their fault, and the world knows it. Their stock value has cratered, and even the BP shareholders are beginning to revolt. They are going to be sued for God only knows how much money, and will be saddled with the cost of the clean-up, which may take years.
But here is something to remember: it’s our fault, too. Yours and mine.
If you own a car, it’s your fault. I own a car, so I own a share of the blame. If you own more than one car, or own some gargantuan gas-guzzling SUV, it’s your fault. If you ever thought a Humvee was cool, or ever owned one, it’s your fault.
If you ever voted in an election based on the high price of gasoline, it’s your fault.
If you ever voted for a politician who went on to deregulate the oil industry from their seat in a committee, it’s your fault. If you didn’t vote to remove that person from office after they voted to deregulate such a dangerous and polluting industry, it’s your fault.
If you eat food that is not grown locally, it’s your fault, because your food had to be brought to you on the backs of trucks that need gasoline to travel. If you eat food grown on an industrialized farm, it’s your fault, because the machines used to cultivate that food need gasoline, too. Even if you eat food that is grown organically and locally, they still use gasoline and oil, so basically nobody is safe from judgment.
If you fly on airplanes, this is your fault.
If your home has oil heat, this is your fault.
If you eat fast food, this is your fault.
For a hundred other reasons, in a hundred other ways, it’s your fault. And my fault. This is our fault, too, and that’s all there is to it.
These judgments don’t sit very comfortably. People need to get to work, need to get their kids to school, so they drive. People need to eat, and don’t necessarily have the money to eat food that is safe for the planet; spend any time in one of those high-end planet-conscious stores, and you learn pretty quickly that only rich people can afford to eat both healthy and responsibly. The rest of us have to get by on Wonder Bread.
It’s all too easy to declare that anyone who has voted Republican should take the blame for this disaster, because it is the Republicans in Washington who have championed the deregulation push that has been ongoing since the Reagan administration. But there are plenty of Democrats who are just as deep into deregulation as their GOP comrades, so voting Democratic is no safe haven.
We are learning a savage lesson in the Gulf. We are witnessing the end of a way of life we have become all too deeply accustomed to. We drive, we eat, we fly, we vote, and in doing so, we share the blame for what is happening, and what is to come. We have gone to sleep each night deliberately oblivious to the deadly nature of the fossil fuels that power the way we live, because it is too hard to even think about living a different way.
The Deepwater Horizon is the period at the end of a very long, bleak sentence that has been rolling along for a hundred years. We are killing ourselves with the way we live, with our complacency, and we can no longer ignore this wretched truth. The oil that is killing beaches and fisheries and animals of every kind is our lifeblood, the spigot on the sea floor is our femoral artery, and we are bleeding to death right there on television.
If it wasn’t BP, it would have been something else. So long as we lay back and live this oily lifestyle, there will always be some company ready to provide it, and there will always be some way that lifestyle will be killing us. The water is fouled, the clouds stink of gasoline, the ground is seeded with poison, and now the sea is dying before our eyes, and all because this is the way we live, and we just can’t seem to realize how mortally dangerous it all is.
This must change. Until it does, it’s our fault, too.