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The Oil Spill: If We Want New Answers, We Need To Ask New Questions

June 1, 2010

Our mother is hemorrhaging in the Gulf of Mexico.

We stab her regularly for her blood. We’ve become like vampires, unable to survive without it.

We want it, and now she’s giving it to us.

What gets me mad even more than:

1) The apparent avoidability of this crisis (BP cut corners in building this rig)

2) The fact that one of the world’s largest corporations is unable to stop the bleeding

3) Our government’s cozy relationship with them

4) And their apparent impotency as well

5) The fact that hurricane season officially begins today, and mom’s oil may wash up deep inland soon. The A.P. puts it this way in an article from Sunday: “…the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped, oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much further inland. Imagine Katrina plus oil spill.”

6) The fact we’re unable to even estimate how much blood is being lost! (“Between 18 and 40 million gallons of oil so far, according to government estimates”)

7) “This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country,” White House energy and climate change adviser Carol Browner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The N.Y. Times is calling it “…one of the greatest environmental calamities of history…”

No: What gets me even more than any of this is that we’re not asking the right questions. We want to know how to stop the bleeding. And how bad the damage will be. But this is because we think that our little problem in the gulf is unique. Just like what we’ve learned about this spill, the problem is bigger than we thought.

A recent article in the British online magazine The Guardian may open our eyes:

Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it.”

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused headlines around the world, yet the people who live in the Niger delta have had to live with environmental catastrophes for decades.”

“…More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico [this article is dated 5/30/10].”

“…With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.”

“’If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention,’ said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. ‘This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.’”

“…According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

“…Estimates put spill volumes in the Niger delta among the worst on the planet, but they do not include the crude oil from waste water and gas flares. Companies such as Shell continue to avoid independent monitoring and keep key data secret.”

Let me confess: I don’t care so much about the dying frogs and turtles and shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico. The real endangered species may be us.

So here’s my point: We need to be using this unasked-for crisis as the opportunity it is. We need some new answers; we need to ask some new questions. Such as:

How can we use this thick, slick black wave to turn the tide once and for all?

This is Obama’s big chance, and he should take it. This administration is supposed to be progressive in its outlook. But this story has seemed to tarnish with big gloppy brush strokes the veneer of change upon this administration. The fact is the system Obama has rode atop of for the past 17 months or so is rotten to its core from decades of collusion between big oil and the government.

So this problem may be too big and too important to be left to our leaders. Because our probably well-meaning administration is apparently tied up in slimy oily knots.

Let’s face it, folks: It’s up to people like us. It is time to forge our shock and horror into outrage and action. It’s time to take matters into our own hands.

We need to say: We’ve got to stop pumping our mother for blood! We’ve got to declare a National Environmental Emergency and go full force to stop her bleeding, and instead use the air she breathes (as in wind power) and the heat she receives (as in solar power) and other such means, and we need to do this now!

We (as in you and I) need to tell the truth: That we have been living an unsustainable lifestyle, and it’s come to bite us on the butt.

This is from Ranken Energy Corporation, an oil and gas exploration and production company. Their website states: “Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each! But, as shown here petroleum is not just used for fuel.” – (

Here’s a list of the products they claim are at least partially made from petroleum. As you read, think what degree of change lies ahead to break our addiction to oil: Solvents Diesel fuel Motor Oil Bearing Grease Ink Floor Wax Ballpoint Pens Football Cleats Upholstery Sweaters Boats Insecticides Bicycle Tires Sports Car Bodies Nail Polish Fishing lures Dresses Tires Golf Bags Perfumes Cassettes Dishwasher parts Tool Boxes Shoe Polish Motorcycle Helmet Caulking Petroleum Jelly Transparent Tape CD Player Faucet Washers Antiseptics Clothesline Curtains Food Preservatives Basketballs Soap Vitamin Capsules Antihistamines Purses Shoes Dashboards Cortisone Deodorant Footballs Putty Dyes Panty Hose Refrigerant Percolators Life Jackets Rubbing Alcohol Linings Skis TV Cabinets Shag Rugs Electrician’s Tape Tool Racks Car Battery Cases Epoxy Paint Mops Slacks Insect Repellent Oil Filters Umbrellas Yarn Fertilizers Hair Coloring Roofing Toilet Seats Fishing Rods Lipstick Denture Adhesive Linoleum Ice Cube Trays Synthetic Rubber Speakers Plastic Wood Electric Blankets Glycerin Tennis Rackets Rubber Cement Fishing Boots Dice Nylon Rope Candles Trash Bags House Paint Water Pipes Hand Lotion Roller Skates Surf Boards Shampoo Wheels Paint Rollers Shower Curtains Guitar Strings Luggage Aspirin Safety Glasses Antifreeze Football Helmets Awnings Eyeglasses Clothes Toothbrushes Ice Chests Footballs Combs CD’s & DVD’s Paint Brushes Detergents Vaporizers Balloons Sun Glasses Tents Heart Valves Crayons Parachutes Telephones Enamel Pillows Dishes Cameras Anesthetics Artificial Turf Artificial limbs Bandages Dentures Model Cars Folding Doors Hair Curlers Cold cream Movie film Soft Contact lenses Drinking Cups Fan Belts Car Enamel Shaving Cream Ammonia Refrigerators Golf Balls Toothpaste Gasoline

Yikes! What isn’t it in?

So here are some of my questions:

Are we to boycott all these products? Or are we to demand congress pass a tax on all products made from petroleum (until they’re not) to help fuel research and production of alternative energy products? And if the politicians dither — should we be willing to pay any taxes at all? These are questions we need to start asking and now.

Desperate times call for desperate solutions. And this is (aha!) an election year. Maybe we should cast our vote according to who will take a stand for a radical reshaping of our priorities going forward.

Here’s another question: What do you think?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2010 11:13 am

    This appears to be an entry from the “I-used-to-be-joyful-and-now-look-at-the-bloody-mess-we’re-in. Ollie” Project. You didn’t even throw us a joygasm to contemplate as we wade through the black briny mess. Come on Charley, we can’t lose you now, just because of one little cataclysmic apocalyptic environmental catastrophe–where’s your sense of humor?

    • June 5, 2010 6:05 am

      I take joy in knowing there exists a solution: as in “There are no problems/Only solutions”. (Remember who said that?)

      The solution is US. We hold the power in our hands to change…everything!

      But yes, you’re right: When faced with a catastrophe the first thing I do is go to my Very Serious place. It’s an old habit. Then I grab a glimpse at the quote on my office door by Oscar Wilde:

      “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

  2. Rob permalink
    June 1, 2010 8:03 pm

    Hey Charlie,

    Great writing, great sentiments, great thinking! On the other hand in the context of what you wrote before, it reads as if you just woke up from a deep 40 year sleep. The cozy relationship between business and government, which is all about their agendas and not the people who they are supposed to be serving, has continued unabated regardless of which party has been in power throughout your adulthood. Clinton through his “Free Trade Treaties” set up the financial disaster which we now face and whose enormity will only become apparent in the years to come. Bush’s policies accelerated both environmental and economic calamity. The war which you so enthusiastically supported dropped tons of depleted uranium on our mother, and its effect on the local population will take god knows how many centuries to eradicate. Yes the real problem is that the real questions are never asked. But the even bigger question is how do we access joy, while appreciating the reality of our present limited state of evolution regarding consciousness, as one big family that shares the increasingly fragile bounty that mother provides. Is joy and being a concerned citizen mutually exclusive? Is revolution of the people against the power structure that you are implicitly calling for the answer? Are there new forms which revolution could take which would bypass the painful excesses and harms to both society and those who revolted that we have witnessed throughout history?

    This blog was a great start. Good luck flushing it out!


    • June 9, 2010 5:27 am


      Thank you for your thoughtful (if at times condescending) response. Your question is a good one about joy. To “bypass the painful excesses of those who revolted in the past” will take new forms of revolution: non-violent; the type that subverts greed with love, that fights fire with water.

  3. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    June 2, 2010 4:26 am

    Good for you for expressing all our outrage and having the courage to feel our mother”s pain. Sometimes we don’t need humor to hide behind. Honesty, in the end, is what will come heal us all. And people, standing up, if for no other reason, than sometimes we know we have to, just as we did during and after 9/11.

  4. Moshe Rothenberg permalink
    June 2, 2010 8:49 am

    You cannot reform this rotten system. For other alternatives, please refer to the Declaration of Independence.

  5. Moshe Rothenberg permalink
    June 2, 2010 8:52 am

    There is no mention in what you wrote t hat the purpose of corporations is to create a profit. The cutting corners that you refer to is one example of the drive for profit. Providing a service is important in the ability of an
    organization to generate a profit, but in this situation, the less oil worldwide (a distinct and increasing reality), the more expensive it becomes and the less likelihood that other, and probably cheaper alternative energy sources will be explored and developed.

    • June 9, 2010 5:29 am

      Actually, the more expensive one form of energy becomes, the GREATER likelihood that other sources will be explored and developed.

  6. Jeff Kelton permalink
    June 2, 2010 10:38 pm

    Hi Charlie,
    I resonate with your rant and it never hurts to give voice to what is deeply felt especially when it concerns all of us. For me this crisis, encourages me to join forces with other like minded and dare I say enlightened souls. We have gone so far in the direction of “cultural advancement” that just about everything we touch is tainted by oil. It is going to take, therefore, a long time to extricate ourselves from our dependence on it. It may even take too long to accomplish this. Still we all must find what ever way we can to do something to counter our addiction. One organization to check out in this matter is I also agree that we need to be asking different questions. Perhaps the biggest is what is our relationship with the Earth in the first place? We have profoundly become disconnected to the natural environment and need to re-establish a more balanced way of living.

    Hugs to All,


  7. November 4, 2010 4:24 am

    the oil spill in mexico really affected the eco system around that area, it would take years to clean those mess””

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