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Dark Cloud of Oil

I hesitate to write much about the oil apocalypse in the Gulf, because it’s complicated and technical and I don’t want to be perceived as setting myself up as some sort of self-styled expert. That would be foolish. All I know is what I read in the papers and online. (Mainstream press coverage is bleak enough, but you don’t have to venture too far afield to find extremely divergent accounts, which is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.) But this story dominates the local headlines, and the smell of petrochemicals fills the air, so it’s impossible not to think about what’s happening.

After all the harrowing events surrounding the hurricanes of 2005 and the subsequent struggle to rebuild, this feels like a massive kick in the crotch. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who live closer to the coast. In New Orleans, it was just a few months ago that we felt maybe we were starting to get it together. We elected a new administration, our team won the Superbowl, and HBO premiered a new TV show about our city. There was a pervasive sense of optimism, an idea that maybe the promise of recovery might be realized, that maybe we can do this despite all the challenges.

It almost seems like we were getting a little too uppity. Like we had to be taken down a peg. Like we had to be reminded of our rightful place in the scheme of things. I know that’s absurd, but it has sometimes felt that way to me — as if we are being punished for daring to hope that we were on the right track.

Meanwhile we continue to go through the motions of everyday life as if everything is OK.

There’s plenty of anti-BP sentiment around, but I’ve been surprised to see a number of people scoff at the notion of a boycott. To me it just seems like a given that when a massive company screws up so badly that a widespread citizen boycott should be organized. There should be an price to pay for bad behavior. Unfortunately consumers in the US don’t seem to think that way. Most people don’t seem to put much thought into where their money goes. But I’m baffled by thoughtful people who don’t see the value of a boycott.

Another response I’ve seen is to point the finger of blame at us, the consumers who desire cheap gas and petrochemical products. I suppose there might be some value in that criticism, but I wonder. Those who are receptive to the criticism are probably already acting on it. Those who need to hear this message the most are probably the most impervious. Many of us are already making efforts to reduce our consumption, but that’s only going to get us so far. As much as I’d like to see a revolution in consciousness spontaneously lead to more ecologically harmonious living across the board, I don’t envision that happening any time soon. Other measures are needed. For example, I’m convinced we won’t significantly reduce consumption of disposable grocery bags until stores stop giving them away. Criticizing the American consumer might be counter-productive if it draws focus away from BP’s malfeasance and from finding real solutions.

I asked Xy what she’d think if the price of gas went up to $10 a gallon. She said that would probably be all for the best.

It’s hard not to be extremely depressed about this catastrophe that’s unfolding in slow motion, but I feel a tiny bit better having expressed some of these thoughts.

Published inEcology


  1. Jaden Jaden

    Two years ago, in Australia, consumers made the change from free plastic bags to a fee of .10 a bag. They collectively understood the problem in their country and started bringing their own bags for groceries and the like. No problem.
    It’s not such a burden to think ahead and carry something into the store with you. We should just do it and consider it part of the change we are all hoping for.

  2. I’d support such a measure in a heartbeat.

  3. What reasons are you hearing for resistance to a BP boycott? It’s my understanding that oil refineries generally purchase crude on the open market from the lowest-priced source, and quite frequently the fuel purchased at retail is from a different source than that station’s particular brand, due to market conditions and shared distribution infrastructure. The Energy Information Administration’s (US Dept. of Energy) website has more information on this topic.

  4. Chris Chris

    As a consumer we DO have to take a look at our habits and I cringe at the thought of putting gas in my car. I won’t buy gas at BP now or probably ever again. But I can’t help but feel that stopping in Chevron does not make me innocent in this disaster. I feel like there should be a warning label at every gas station right now showing the reality of our habits. There is no easy answer to this cluster f%@&

    I watched a press conference today and basically the permanent solution will not be ready until August (the relief wells). Anything that works before then will be a bonus but it doesn’t sound promising. The president of BP was walking around the coast and I kept thinking that he better not show his face at a restaurant. I’m sure the gulf coast has a special little treat they would like to serve him.

  5. rickngentilly rickngentilly

    hippies and hawks ought to be able to agree that getting off imported energy would make us able to steer this boat in the direction we choose.

    fuck global warming vs. drill baby drill.

    just saying , ya heard?

  6. […] know what’s going on it’s all here on’s page about the oil. I felt that Editor B’s comments on the whole thing summed up my feelings pretty […]

  7. Jack Schick Jack Schick

    With compassionate painful heart, I say:
    B. and Xy–
    y’all showed your -not only Big Hearts, but Ballsy Big Hearts in the way
    you chose to be open and sharing with all the street kids, and your- not just
    sentimental love for your City, but roll-up-the shirtsleeves and get dirty type
    of Love-in-action.
    Fucking Bravo!–the crowd calls out for More!

    Now Cap’n Jack is calling all hands to LOOK ALIVE!
    Sorry, but our touchy-feely new age stuff which caused us to believe
    we can affect the marketplace by our high-conscious decisions, sorry,
    but really REALLY we face the long-foretold degradation and collapse of
    our Best-Laid-Plans.
    I know, I know…I gotta scrappy sister who insists we will just
    Work Harder, like Boxer the horse in Orwell’s Animal Farm.
    She’s quite the Go-Getter, but I have to say, she is a HALF-WIT at the
    crucial points of utilizing LOGIC and I cannot use her for any DECISIONS.
    This IS the end-of-civilization, of all our hopes and dreams the end, of
    all our plans and schemes, the end.
    Please B.
    and all the readers of the Word: Be ye Do-ers of the Word.
    We follow along with the survival urge of our Woman,
    and We cannot keep it in our Pants, so then we create massive, convoluted
    justifications for our behavior. Even in the face of obvious Tsunamis
    of human and sub-human hordes racing to overrun us.
    If you have a farm in the family–run there.
    Please, if you wish to preserve at least a few days of decent health as the
    World collapses, GET OUT OF THE FUMES!
    In the Lyrical shining Light of William Dawson:
    King Jesus is a-listenin’ all day long,
    to hear some sinner pray.
    Ya gotta use your intelligence and your Heart.
    There are no Institutional, enterprise-wide solutions, sorry all you
    activists. Now is the time for all good men to realize the “Party” is and
    really always was, bullshit.
    There is no “NORM” to return back to–there will be no “restoration”
    other than those Norms and Restorations instructed to the individual SOUL.
    Go get a tank of GAS and GET the Hell out of Dodge.

  8. Sean Sean

    As a state, as long as we hold on to our natural resources with a loose grip our prosperity and livelihoods will slip out of our hands like an oily fish.

    We should compare any country that has been impoverished and held dependent by foreign exploitation and privatization of their natural resources. Their elected officials handed off their resources to private industry for chump change and in the process their environments were destroyed resulting in ruining other forms of economy. So we may be failing by not having enough reusable grocery bags, but I think the larger casualty is our political leaders regardless of party.

    @rickngentilly points out the national security issue of using foreign oil. Louisiana is the sacrifice to the nation, and sacrifice is, as we know, patriotic. In that sense we’ve got patriots around the globe. I’d like to see that same fervor and debate for Louisiana’s security.

  9. Sean Sean

    @Jack Schick I can’t tell if you are serious, mocking insane people or already high on fumes.

  10. rickngentilly rickngentilly

    @ sean just wanted to clear up that by domestic energy i mean all of it.

    not just oil.

    people down here can get some pretty sweet deals on solar right now.

    it also looks like the feds are fixing to throw us a bone for insulating our houses.

  11. Garvey Garvey

    Meanwhile, Barack W. Bush plans another vacation…maybe some more golf.

    What is the real alternative to fossil fuels? Wind? Kills too many birds and it spoils the Kennedys’ view…. Nuclear? Do we have the political will to get us all nuked up and ready to go? Plug-in cars are vaporware and a joke anyway, since all they’re doing currently is burning coal…

  12. I was thinking serious reduction of consumption would be our first line of defense.

  13. steve steve

    every year, wind turbines kill fewer birds than cats do. the wind farm off the coast of martha’s vineyard has just gotten approval.

    an electric motor converts 80% of its fuel into the kinetic energy of its rotating shaft. an internal combustion engine converts only 30% of its fuel into kinetic energy. so even if an electric car got all of its energy from a coal-fired plant, it would be greener than a comparable conventional one. of course, the grid utilizes a range of generators with coal being the worst. its estimated that by 2030, the US will get 20% of its electricity from wind alone.

  14. Garvey Garvey

    @B: In the case of gas, I don’t think price influences consumption as much as we’d hope. I think people would just spend less on other stuff. Our entire economy is dependent on oil. You are lucky to live in a bikeable/walkable city with usable public transport. That is the exception, rather than the rule.

    In my current city, it will 10 years and $1B (prolly more like $2B with the inevitable cost overruns) to lay 11 miles of light rail for a single rail line. None of those figures are typos. Why does light rail cost $100M/mile and can only be put down 1mile/year? The first transcontinental railroad took only six years, part of which was during a civil war, and had 1800 miles of track for under $1M per mile in today’s dollars…

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