BP and Me

I cried when I read the NY Times account of the last hours of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig. I cried out of frustration regarding BP and Transocean’s seeming disregard for safety procedures and maintenance of the oil rig, even though it put lives in danger.  I cried as I remembered the pictures I saw of dead turtles washing up on the shores of the Gulf; of beautiful birds covered in oil that would ultimately kill them.  I cried for the human lives lost in the terror of the explosions on that rig and for the survivors who will always be emotionally haunted by memories of leaving loved ones behind, even as they desperately clung to hopes of survival for themselves.

I often wonder, when hearing figures of how many barrels of oil ultimately escaped, or reading about how disastrously safety procedures failed, whether anyone—anyone—in the long chain of command responsible for monitoring the well stopped for a minute and said, “guys, this is not a good idea; something bad might happen if we don’t do what it is that we’re supposed to do.”  Judging from the size of the catastrophe in the gulf, and the emerging evidence of appalling quality and safety control failures on the part of everyone from the Obama administration to BP management, apparently not.  But, how could this be?  How could so many people be so disconnected from nature, from life, and from the fragility of the awe-inspiring ecosystem that sustains our planet, that they systematically subordinated any concerns about the environment and the creatures living in it, to the pursuit of profit?

I want to raise a child who is more comfortable with the outdoors than I am.  Even though I was raised in a suburb, Long Island is not the countryside.  I’m essentially a city girl, preferring asphalt to azanias, sidewalks to grass, and air conditioning to fresh air.  I want to want to take my shoes off and feel the soil between my toes; sit underneath a tree without scanning furiously for ants and spiders; enjoy the feeling of rain on my skin.  But all that wanting has not made me more comfortable outside.  And as I read the newspaper account of the oil-rig collapse, I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Instead of trying to co-exist with nature, we try to control it.  In our efforts, we ignore the lasting, irreversible impact we have on our environment, and the other animals we share it with.  In our hubris, we forget that Mother Nature is more powerful than us all; oil wells cannot always be contained, and if we are not careful, it spells disaster when she unleashes her full force.  If more of us could remember, however, that we are just one species among millions, sharing God’s green earth, subject to natural forces that are ultimately out of our control, maybe catastrophes like this would stop happening.  And perhaps it starts at home.  If I raise my own daughter to revel in the natural world, then maybe she will one day be the employee who says, “hey, guys, this is not a good idea.”

When I take her outside for her daily walk, my daughter crashes into bushes, completely oblivious to the sharp branches sticking her face.  She brings me leaves and sticks to examine, without any concern about the dirt on her hands, or the little critters that accompany her discoveries.  When she runs toward me with a smooth rock she’s picked up, her hands muddy, but her eyes bright and inquisitive, I do my best to hide my discomfort.  My dreams of digging my toes into the soil in delight will probably never be realized, but like so many mothers, I push my dreams off on my kid.  I pray that she’ll learn to love and protect her world better than my generation, and the generations before me, have.

6 thoughts on “BP and Me

  1. I think that my concern about “nature” was grounded first in an awareness of the historic exploitation of black people. When you think about it, it’s certainly not a stretch to imagine that the same capitalist ethos that would allow politicians (just learned about william penn’s father’s history of colonialism in jamaica and his son’s inheritance) and business owners to denaturalize humans into objects of production to later denaturalize land, and sea, into vessels for production, or at least the waste/remains of production.

    A great cinematic scene to imagine what this very same conversation went like before the spill in the BP boardroom would be one that takes place in the movie Unstoppable. The long and short is that there is a runaway train carrying explosive materials that they can’t stop without derailing the train. The train company decides that rather than to risk damaging their product (the train itself) they are comfortable with risking the lives of area residents.

    We know of course that the racial makeup of the communities companies “risk,” are disproportionately black and brown and poor. That BP “risked” New Orleans, so soon after Hurricane Katrina, is an crime that hopefully is weighing on their conscience. However, our American government did the same thing to New Orleans by not fixing the levees prior to the Hurricane. BP just followed suit.

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  2. My children come home dirty every single day. Here in California it’s like common sense that even when the weather is bad (read: rain) the children go outside and play at day care anyway, so my kids come home muddy, dirt under the fingernails, sand in the hair, clothes all tore up, 365 days a year. They love nature, constantly showing me this stick and that leaf, wanting to climb this tree. The beach is a favorite spot, even though the water up here is cold all the time.

    I’m a city girl too, but I spent a lot of time growing up camping as a Girl Scout. I’m not like my kids by any means but I love being outside with fresh air. When I go back to the East Coast, something in the air is just…different than it is out here. Things don’t seem as fresh, as clean. I think it’s because the East Coast has an abundance of things the West Coast does not, like water, and we tend to take for granted the things we don’t think we can lose.

    I think this is the general attitude most people have about the Earth. We kinda know global warming is an issue, and oil spilling into water is not such a great idea, but there is so much of it, and change occurs so gradually, and everything will probably be okay in our lifetime, so we take it for granted that its really not so much our problem. We complain and fret, but we don’t do anything. So we can blame BP, but we must also blame ourselves. One thing I notice about NoCal is that people are so much more willing to ride their bike than drive their car than I ever saw in Philly. In Philly bicyclists were a nuisance. Here, it is all about sharing the road! We buy gas all the time for our cars – every time we do that, we are feeding the greedy oil machine. The public outcry against BP was great – but it stopped at that, mere outcry. Where was the action? Did we stop buying BP gas? Did we flood our Senator’s offices with phone calls and emails and letters about punishing BP? And when it comes to what American corps do overseas, the same thing applies – once we have the information, what do we do with it?

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  3. I am often teased about my recycling habits. My response has and will always be I care about the world and what will be left for my son to enjoy. If we don’t take control and become accountable no dreams will be realized of sticking our toes in the sand or sitting on a beach listening to the waves crashing without major concerns for our health, well-being and nature.

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  4. This is precisely my point with the post. “Greedy, power-hungry oil lords whose very essence is defined by the LOVE of money” are not just born; we raise our children to be these people. In addition to our failure to register public outcry and act on that outcry, it might also help if we raised kids who thought about the planet as more than just an afterthought, and as more than just “I recycle on Wednesdays.” I imagine if oil company execs had to come face-to-face with the wreckage created by the spills–spending weeks rescuing Penguins, for example, off the African coasts after a spill–it might impact decisionmaking. And if I try and raise my child to appreciate the outdoors–to really internalize the idea that she is connected to it–than maybe she’ll be a better company exec.

    There are lots of different ways to do this; encouraging our kids to play outside regularly, and teaching good habits like recycling are two good ones. We also try to incorporate it into my daughter’s learning, from when I ask her if she can feel the wind on her skin outside, to story time. One book I highly recommend is “On the Day You Were Born.” It’s a beautiful book articulating the “promises” the Earth made to her on the day she was born, including a full moon who promised to come to her window every month, waves that would wash beaches clean for her footprints, and gravity which promised to keep her securely tethered to the earth for all the days of her life.

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